I want to tell you a story, though it’s a tired one. It’s one of watermarks, floodlines, and rust. It’s one of great sadness, overwhelming emotions, and glorious reunitings. One that over the last 10 years most Americans are tired of hearing, and one that many New Orleanians have a version of. It’s Katrina. And Rita. And levees breaking. And the curious nine years that followed the moisture-rotted rollercoaster of events in latter 2005 in the Crescent City. And while my tale unfurls I will ask you to remember two words: gumbo party.
Among other quizzical post-K recovery notions, recently the question has been placed (and by more than a few): is the New Orleans housing market in a bubble? And, of course, everyone has an answer. My answer is: no. But why does my opinion count? Maybe it doesn’t. But maybe it does. Maybe because I’ve lived these last nine years with my ear to the ground, following my passions in real estate. Or, more importantly, maybe because when my wife and I returned to New Orleans we doubled down, quite literally, and had two more daughters and began reinvesting ourselves in our return. If we are to be washed away again – and chances are good – we’ll at least be in more and good company.
One may argue the film industry has been driving the real estate market, and some would say that’s right on. Long seated largely bi-coastally, the purveyors of film and television have steadfastly and albeit largely due to state tax credits found a new home in the Pelican State. Some may say then: the third coast. No flip affair this, and New Orleans and its surroundings having always been a fave setting, the be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario of box office business has the additional impact on regional housing for two reasons: (1) Do you know what housing goes for in California and New York? It ain’t cheap. (2) Many of the cast and crew have been brought in to work and guess what? They have to live somewhere! Some even still own homes in Burbank. But that’s not all!
The cataclysmic pairing of (1) and (2) has produced a pennies-on-the-dollar approach to the regional inventory, galvanizing sought-after neighborhoods and revitalizing others that were not so much. But then one might argue, tax credits have a life span so therefore, duh, housing bubble, right? Wrong. There’s a degree of permanence in things like Second Line Stages in the Lower Garden (or go regional and look at Celtic in Baton Rouge). And whatever slack a possibly waning film industry of the future may leave behind, a yet-to-be-completed world class hospital in the heart of New Orleans may handily remedy.
And remember hospitals are businesses. Businesses that create layers of jobs, require scores of housing, and generate beaucoup tax dollars. It’s all related, it’s all in flux, and it isn’t a fluke or temporary. There is no housing bubble here to see here folks, move along.
This long road of recovery has challenged those who embraced it. Rebuilding the city that care forgot would never be an end game where stakes would be pulled up and well wishes sent. Staying indefinitely became the de facto new norm. A “why go back to where you came from if your home is really here” state of mind. And in ways you can easily measure but you may never fully tally. Task yourself a moment and think of 5 positive things that have happened since 2005. Now think of 5 more. And do it again and again. And let me know when you’re done.
Among those 5 things in my book? Gumbo party. The short-lived, strangely named, and often overlooked K-Ville gave the rest of the world its version of a post-Katrina New Orleans landscape with one episode ending indelibly with a gumbo party. It was terrible. A veritable ‘WTF’ heard round the world for those in the know (read: New Orleanians wherever they were, returned home or displaced) of what an awful misstep the writers of the show had achieved. And for the uninitiated and for the record: in New Orleans, know there is gumbo, know there are parties, but also know there have never been nor will there ever be any gumbo parties – ever.
Yet ‘gumbo party’ remains a good thing. Why? Even in getting it wrong, the spirit was right. This misnomer was not an insult but a misfire. And it’s why the housing market is not in a bubble. More and more new-New Orleanians have descended upon the city than ever before, and not all, but many, are trying to contribute to its expansive cultural history and contribution to the world at large. Even if they don’t get it quite right, it’s still happening, and it’s still a positive for the town.
To be where New Orleans is today — including its robust realty market, a byproduct in the crosshairs of the glass half-emptiers — testifies to nearly a decade of blood, sweat, tears, and turmoil. Yes, there’s a lot of new. Consider Uptown Messenger included in this lot – and other digital news sources like it – are all post 2005 additions. New isn’t bad, and new doesn’t have to be a bubble either. Because it’s not.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.