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Post photographer Michael Williamson is traveling across the country covering the economic situation.

A House Hollywood Helped Build

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A vision in pink, Rahmya Mosley, 5, dances with her cousin Cha’kira Fortenberry, 7, in blue. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

NEW ORLEANS--Two young girls took turns jumping rope outside a pale green and yellow house on a block in the Lower 9th Ward, a place where some stairs lead to nothing but air.

After the storm, some had written off this neighborhood. But then Brad Pitt came, money followed and, on lots overgrown with weeds, houses sprouted in a fun spectrum of colors and shapes.

The house behind the girls belonged to their grandmother.

“It’s way bigger than the other house,” said Rahmya Mosley, 5, talking about the house that was destroyed.

“It’s bigger than the whole country,” her cousin, Cha’kira Fortenberry, 7, added.

The two shared a jump rope with a broken handle shaped like a lion’s head. It kept slipping off in their hands.

“Ready, set and action,” Cha’kira said. “I can do it with my eyes closed.”

They wanted to show us what they could do and so Michael and I stood by the side of the road, watching. I was counting aloud the number of jumps each girl made when Cha’kira turned to me and asked, “Can you jump rope, ma’am?”

I tried my best, getting in five good turns before the small rope got tangled on my feet. Michael did much better. With ease, he whipped it around his body at least a dozen times.

The girls laughed at both of us.

Rahmya’s mother, Shonita Mosley, said the girls’ grandmother loves her new place, but not everyone has been as fortunate when it comes to housing in New Orleans. Mosley’s family was forced to move to Alabama after the storm and now they can’t afford to move back because rental prices have skyrocketed in the years since Katrina. The Mosleys were just visiting when we met them.

Before Katrina, the Mosleys paid $800 a month for a three-bedroom house in New Orleans. Now, she said, they are having difficulty finding a place for less than $1,200 a month. To move here, they would also need to find jobs at a time when many people are losing theirs.

“If you were already financially able before the storm, then it’s not as hard for you to come back to start over,” Mosley said.

Nearby, on many neighboring lots, cement stairs lead to nowhere, reminders of houses that have not been rebuilt. The phantom stairs stand in stark contrast to the brightly painted Brad Pitt houses, where life has gone on.

“Wanna hear me sing?” Cha’kira asked me.

Before I could answer, she and Rahmya had lined up, one in front of the other.

“I can fly and fly and do the butterfly,” they sang, shaking their small bodies in sync. “I can dip and dip and shake my hips…I want you and you to do what I do…Front, back, side, side, let me see the butterfly.”

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In the Lower Ninth Ward, many lots remain empty, with stairs leading to houses that are no longer there. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

By Theresa Vargas  |  July 16, 2009; 8:55 AM ET
Categories:  Scene along the Street  
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Next: A Legend Lives On

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