Site of deadly 9th Ward fire is now an Airbnb camp



For $15 a night
, you can sleep under the stars on a one-acre lot in New Orleans' 9th Ward. On Dec. 28, 2010, eight people died in a fire — one of the most deadly in three decades — on that same lot.

The "simple, cheap camping" listed on Airbnb doesn't have electricity or running water (the listing advertises using "the bucket and cup method"), but there is an outdoor kitchen area and campfire with access to food from a dumpster. And it's safe: "nothing alarming has happened in the two months" the host has stayed there turning the site into a communal homestead garden.

The people inside the "squatted" 9th Ward building stayed warm by a burning barrel as temperatures dipped below freezing that night in 2010. The blaze was the deadliest in New Orleans since the Upstairs Lounge fire in 1973 that killed 32 people in the French Quarter.

The 2010 fire sparked a debate over the growing presence of "travelers" in the years following Hurricane Katrina and drew attention to abandoned, squatted properties throughout the city. (The fire, as well as growing violence and personal tragedies from within the neighborhood, inspired Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Lee Segarra and Sam Doores to write "St. Roch Blues.") Robert Morris with wrote about 17-year-old New Orleanian Melissa Martinez, who died in the fire, and the damaging stereotyping of "squatters."

Airbnb lists more than 1,000 rooms and homes in New Orleans. Among the listings are dozens in the Marigny and Bywater — in one stretch of the neighborhood, there are 140 Airbnbs, which have nearly entirely replaced residents on at least one block of Royal Street, according to Caroline Thomas, who made a satirical art piece to highlight the problem.

The Airbnb camp listing says what you pay for when you book your stay "will be reserved strictly for improving this place, such as renting an excavator to dig ponds/collect rainstorm water or buying cement." Some house rules, however: "I would expect everyone to be very friendly and considerate with whomever they see nearby. Please say you are friends of mine staying here temporarily."

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