FOX 8 Investigates: New developments in historic house-moving project

In a joint investigation, FOX 8 and our partners at The Lens have learned the City of New Orleans has decided to revoke $2 million from a group that played a big role in a massive house moving project.

Also, after the city spent thousands of dollars to move it, one historic home that was re-located to be preserved was on the brink of demolition, again.

Deborah Brown Cassine's young family was the last to leave the Mid-City area that the state cleared to make way for a new Veterans Hospital.

"It saddens me beyond what you can think of," said Cassine.

The state bought her house, but like dozens of other historic homes, it was spared from demolition, picked up and moved to another area to be rehabbed and eventually put back into commerce. The city used $3.2 million in federal money to make it happen, and hired Builders of Hope to oversee the project.

Contractors stripped Cassine's home of its camelback and roof so it could clear power lines, and the house she used to own was been placed in the Treme neighborhood.

"Just the thought of it being exposed for nearly 18 months saddens me when the purpose of moving the home was to restore it," explained Cassine.

Because it's still without a roof, the last home to leave the VA footprint -- a $35,000 move according to the city -- was about to be the first to possibly be demolished in its new location.

The city's regulatory agency for historic districts outside the French Quarter cited the house for "demolition by neglect," putting the property owner on notice to fix the concerns or face fines.

That new owner is a non-profit group called Providence Community Housing.  Andreanecia Morris, Providence's vice president for Homeownership and Community Development, says Providence had plans to renovate.

In an email, Morris told FOX 8 they've started work on 28 of the 35 VA homes they now own.

"But the current deterioration of the property at 1601 Dumaine now has us rethinking that because we are unsure of the viability of the structure," said Morris. She said Builders of Hope hasn't put a new roof on it.

"I do feel like it was a waste of taxpayers dollars... all the money they spent to move the houses... to preserve them... And they got exposed," said Morris.

Builders of Hope founder Nancy Welsh told FOX 8 and The Lens that the city stopped making payments to them, preventing Builders of Hope from completing their end of the job.

A city spokesperson said the city owes Builders of Hope nothing.  "We are not satisfied with BOH's performance at this point... as a part of our effort to ensure that public money is being spent correctly, the city of New Orleans has been monitoring Builders of Hope," said Ryan Berni.

It turns out the city cut off Builders of Hope, citing things were "slow to materialize."  According to a June 7 letter that FOX 8 obtained, the city wrote Builders of Hope, "We cannot afford to tie up any federal resources in initiatives that are extremely protracted in coming online."

As a result, the city revoked nearly $2 million to use for other ground-ready housing efforts. The city also mentioned that Builders of Hope had not made timely payments to its subcontractors.

The Builders of Hope office on Carrollton Ave. appears to be empty.  A "for lease" sign is posted in front of the building, and a neighbor told FOX 8 that they left town.  Welsh said her group has never received the letter from the city about any de-obligation of funds.

After FOX 8 and The Lens questioned the fate of Cassine's former home -- meant to be preserved -- Providence informed FOX 8 that a neighborhood group, called Treme 4 Treme, has offered to help save the home.  However, Morris said the group doesn't have the funding, and at this point there's no timeline to bring the home online.  Our call to Treme 4 Treme was not returned.

Some commend the city's efforts and Providence's progress to put several homes on Bienville near Claiborne on a path to restoration.  Meantime, other historic homes, like some moved near the Lafitte Greenway, look more like blight.

"This is probably the largest house moving project in the nation, and it should have been a model for the rest of the nation and it is fraught with failures... and problems... and this is one of them," said Sandra Stokes with the Foundation for Historical Louisiana Board.

The historic home relocated on Dumaine St. in Treme could be spared one more time, but it's former owner doesn't feel the historic features that made it so special, such as the natural pine wood floors and restored fireplaces, can ever really be preserved.

Morris said Providence plans to develop a stronger plan on the future of 1601 Dumaine to present to the Historic District Landmarks Commission next month.