NOLA’s Sobering Reality Show

On July 10, the Reality Binge will debut on the three-year-old Fox Reality Channel.

This one-hour program will show highlights from and give commentary on the best (and worst) of reality shows from every U.S. network. The focus will be on outrageous characters and moments and the intent is to be humorous.

That contrasts with the dose of reality that Cable Show attendees got last Sunday morning.

Two busloads of convention-goers got to see first-hand the state of the Crescent City, as it nears the third anniversary of its own outrageous moment: the inundation that followed Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005, and the inept response by local, state and federal authorities.

The Lower Ninth Ward is still devastated. It is, as tour guide Carol Boasberg put it, a ghost town. Here and there, new or refurbished homes are appearing. But cinder blocks with nothing on them still act as eerie grave stones for houses that were swept away, block after block, near the 17th Street levee breach.

Jimmy Carter’s socially-minded Habitat for Humanity has put up 1,000 homes in the time that has passed. Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation intends to complete the first of a planned 150 “sustainable, affordable” homes by Aug. 29 of this year, the third anniversary.

But there’s little that is easy or affordable about making this area sustainable again.

To make things right, each of the Pitt homes will be built according to designs from 13 top architects. Each will be raised 8 feet off the ground and span between 1,000 and 1,200 square feet.

The cost? Between $190,000 and $200,000 each.

The homes will go to former residents of the ward, who wish to come back. They will only have to pay 85% of whatever they received from insurance for the destruction of their former homes.

That number might have only been $30,000 or so. Which means there’s a big gap to close on each one. In effect, this is a $25 million project. Just to put up 150 homes and get 150 families back.

Even Habitat homes aren’t necessarily cheap. As a down payment, those families moving back have to put in 380 hours of sweat equity into the home they will live in. Then each will pay $550 a month for 20 years to cover the house note, insurance and taxes.

Those trying to rebuild on their own have it even tougher. Construction costs have quadrupled, since the disaster. Installing plumbing in a simple ranch house can cost $20,000.

Basic homeowners insurance on homes here — which may or may not pay off should another hurricane hit — that used to cost $1,500 a year is now $5,000.

All told, the city still is down 175,000 residents. And it may stay down. Boasberg, a 33-year resident of New Orleans, was only able to move back into her home five weeks ago. She figures it’ll be 10 or 12 years before the Lower Ninth Ward has recovered.

“You really can’t afford to come back,’’ she said.

If you want to help change that, here are some links: