June 30, 2010

This is devastating. The working poor of New Orleans must feel like they have a target on their backs. Katrina, the Gulf disaster... now this? Apparently Habitat for Humanity is so worried about legal exposure, they've been stonewalling the residents:

NEW ORLEANS — For more than a year, the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity has insisted there were no defects in the Chinese drywall it used to build nearly 200 houses for victims of Hurricane Katrina, including many in its heavily publicized “Musicians’ Village’’ development in the Upper Ninth Ward.

But a house-by-house canvas of Musicians’ Village by reporters from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and ProPublica found several homeowners who reported serious problems and one who said she had complained to Habitat for more than a year about corrosion and electronics failures believed to be related to her drywall.

The reporters’ interviews with dozens of residents also turned up a second potentially significant problem: Some of the homes that Habitat officials believed had been built with American-made drywall actually contain a Chinese product instead.

As a result, Habitat has begun investigating as many as 50 post-Katrina homes that used the allegedly American-made product. Most of the targeted homes are in Musicians’ Village, which was largely bankrolled by Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis in an attempt to bring musicians back to the city after the hurricane. But some are in other New Orleans neighborhoods.

A Habitat spokeswoman said the investigation has already confirmed that five houses have Chinese drywall and are exhibiting problems associated with the product, such as corroded electrical wiring.

The New Orleans chapter of the prominent non-profit continued using Chinese drywall in the Village and its other New Orleans projects throughout 2009 -- long after other builders stopped -- because it said it had done tests showing that the stockpile of Chinese product it bought from Taishan Gypsum Co. in March 2007 was not problematic.

[...] Three homeowners in Musicians’ Village told reporters of a range of problems, from failed appliances and electronics to corroded metals and jewelry. They also complained about health issues, including irritated eyes and respiratory problems.

One Musicians’ Village homeowner said that since mid-2009 she has repeatedly complained to Habitat about appliance failures and strange corrosion in her home. She said Habitat officials kept promising to send an inspector, but never did. Other owners said they raised questions but were promised they had nothing to worry about.

When a reporter visited homes that Habitat originally said were made with American drywall, he found that at least three had wallboard that was clearly stamped “Made in China.” Each of those homes also had corrosion and other problems associated with contaminated drywall.

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