Offbeat doesn’t get it, or just saying “thank you” would be fine

offBeat Magazine has this interview with Harry Connick, Jr., Branford Marsalis, and Anne Marie Wilkins. The interview was conducted by Jam Ramsey, the publisher, and Alex Rawls, an editor.

Rawls: Does it strike you as odd having a Musicians’ Village where musicians are, at least at this stage, the minority?

Marsalis: There is a federal statute that says you can’t build homes with public people’s money, and say that they’re reserved for 100 percent of anybody. There was a time when you could do that, but we’ve gone past that time. We get 2,000 applications, and of those 2,000, 10 percent are musicians. So what do we do with the other 90 percent—“Sorry, not a musician. See ya”?

[It’s not obvious how the Fair Housing Act would prohibit an all-musician village. While that would certainly go against general notions of fairness, Section 804 (a) declares it unlawful to “refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Throughout the act, those are the conditions under which discrimination is illegal; occupation is not mentioned.]

The last bit in italics is an editor’s note. That is exactly how it appears online and in the print version. I hope I am misreading this, but it appears to me that the editors of offBeat are quoting Federal statutes to make the point that it is not technically illegal to deny housing to someone because they are not a musician. Even though the editors admit, “that would certainly go against general notions of fairness,” it seems that they are badgering Connick and Marsalis about the lack of musicians who have qualified for housing in the Musicians Village, and in the process making the implication that non-musicians should be denied housing in favor of musicians.

I am not sure what offBeat’s motivation could be in doing this. It seems to be in vogue lately in New Orleans to find anyone who is trying to help, and give them crap about not helping “fast enough”/”the right way”/”the way we used to do it”, etc. This approach obviously makes everything run better (where’s that sarcasm emoticon again?). Why don’t we find everyone that wants to do some good in New Orleans and f*** with them until they get fed up and leave? Then we wouldn’t have any more carpetbaggers like Harry and Branford coming in here and trying to provide affordable homeownership for a city that has a dire housing need.

To even suggest that we should discourage non-musicians from receiving Habit for Humanity assistance is ludicrous. That is in no way different from saying that you can’t live here because you are black, white, straight, gay, or a writer for a mediocre music magazine. To make Harry and Branford defend this issue is appalling. It is a non-issue, and should have been from first glance. Those guys don’t have to do what they are doing. We should be thanking them, not giving them the 60 Minutes treatment.

Rawls: I understand what you’re saying about the housing rules, but this has been pitched as “the Musicians’ Village.”

Marsalis: It’s a musicians’ village in a peripheral sense. You can’t find me a single piece of documentation that says, “We’re building homes only for musicians.”

[True, but New Orleans musicians have a reason to think otherwise. That was certainly the tone of the initial message, so much so that none of the stories written about the Musicians’ Village printed in New Orleans mentioned that the village would not be reserved strictly for musicians. Only one Associated Press wire service story raised that issue; it quoted Jim Pate, executive director of New Orleans’ Habitat for Humanity, as saying, “Habitat cannot reserve houses for a specific group, and non-musicians would also live in the village.”]

I remember from the beginning hearing that the Musicians’ Village could not be reserved for musicians only, and it made perfect sense to me then. If the New Orleans press missed that part of the message it is because they are either incompetent, irresponsible or both.

After offBeat ran their first 60-Minutes-wanna-be piece on this, the Times-Picayune ran a big story on the injustice of musicians being denied homes in the Musicians’ Village. It was presented in a way that led one to believe that because our city flooded, we should take all of the irresponsible musicians with lousy credit that never could have bought a house before, and buy them all houses. They talked about how hard it is to get gigs post-K and how tough it is on the musicians. The photo used on the front page of the story showed a musician sitting in a FEMA trailer with a large TV that barely fit in the small trailer in the background. If you want to spend your Red Cross money on a big ass TV, that’s fine with me, just don’t make me listen to you bitch about your credit afterwards. Not long before that story ran, I received a last minute call from the premier local jazz club to bring in a band the next night, because the act they had booked cancelled the day before the gig. This is a good guaranteed money gig. The guy that cancelled was the guy in the paper in the FEMA trailer with the big ass TV. “Times are tough, but it’s easier to whine about it than to get my business together enough to do the gigs I have,” is the message that is being sent.

I’m not in any way saying that we should not be helping people. We should be helping people. As Harry said about the Habitat staff in the offBeat piece:

These guys are bending over backwards to help people, doing more even than I thought they would: There are legal services available; they’ve got credit counseling. It was actually a surprise to me how available all this stuff was to the applicants. It’s just a matter of calling, setting up an appointment, and doing a little bit of work.

offBeat stirring this pot in this manner is irresponsible. If they want to stir the pot, why not get on the city about the crime. A student of mine was robbed at gunpoint, and bound and gagged in his own home last weekend. Stir the pot about that. One annoying French Quarter resident/irritant is trying to get one of the few modern jazz venues in town shut down. Stir the pot about that.

offBeat won’t say this, but I will. Harry and Branford, Thank you very much for what you are doing. It is people like you that have the best chance of saving New Orleans from itself. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

2 thoughts on “Offbeat doesn’t get it, or just saying “thank you” would be fine

  1. Great post, Jeff. No, you’re not imagining it. Offbeat ran an interview, and when they realized they missed asking a few follow-up questions, they inserted what they thought were “zingers” in the text of the printed Q&A. I’ve never seen this done before.

    As a Habitat board member and pretty involved in the Musicians Village and other work being done by Habitat, I’m pretty invested on this whole issue. So I have written Ms. Ramsey and Mr. Rawls and advised them that at least one of these “zingers” is oddly inaccurate … the big one you quote, above, that claims that a promise of “only musicians” was “certainly the tone of the initial message, so much so that none of the stories written about the Musicians’ Village printed in New Orleans mentioned that the village would not be reserved strictly for musicians.”

    You’d think that a statement like this would be supportable. Hmmm. Then what about these sources:

    Times-Picayune, front page of Metro, Jan. 6, 2006 (before Habitat even owned the land, much less had began raising money in earnest):
    “Some of the musicians who live in the village will donate their time to young students who are interested in learning New Orleans music in the New Orleans way, Branford Marsalis has said. _The musicians village will be inhabited by nonmusicians as well, Pate said. The mix has not been determined._”

    And this, in Gambit on April 25, 2006:
    “_Although non-musicians are eligible to live in Musicians Village_, Habitat New Orleans is targeting most of its outreach at that community via the Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, the Tipitina’s Foundation and Habitat affiliates in areas that took in large numbers of evacuees.”

    Both articles “printed in New Orleans” make it pretty clear, seems to me, and set the record straight from the start. And then there are the other articles that you write about. I think that your take on them is dead on. The good news is that they haven’t deterred Habitat from welcoming musicians, helping them clean up their credit, and empowering them to transform their lives. It’s happening, and ultimately the Musicians Village will be teeming with musicians and their families.

    Thanks again for your support, Jeff.

    – Andy

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