Reinventing the Crescent: Designs by Mike Brady

“Alice? Can you bring me my pile of cash? I need to stoke the fire. It’s cold in here.” We have architectural teams here competing for the chance to design the new riverfront. The only thing they didn’t talk about was how much it was going to cost. Sure, the developers pay for the planning process, but who is going to pay for the rest? I’m all for progress and building new things down here, but why are they doing this when the infrastructure of the city is still in shambles? They are talking about building parks and condos and public areas, but do we need this now?

I know many people are tired of our attitudes toward change, but the lack of change is what makes us different from everyone else. There are thousands who still can’t come home, only because there is nowhere to live. We have thousands of houses that nobody lives in. We have a ton of parks already. Of course, no one will cut the grass, so they are unusable. We have empty houses, but deadbeat landlords won’t fix them, and are completely indifferent because there are no consequences for their actions, or lack of action I should say. Sure, I want state of the art infrastructure, but if we lose what made us different, what’s the point of living here? We need to start seizing houses and fixing them up. Wouldn’t the city make some money if they took the houses and fixed them up and then charged rent? They would make a hell of a lot more money then they do collecting property tax.

For example: The city takes a blighted house and rebuilds it at a minimal cost. The property was free to them, so there is no mortgage. They only owe on building costs. They then charge a reasonable rent to the tenant, a percentage over what the city owes on the loan. The loan is paid, and the city keeps the profits. After the loan is paid off, they give the tenant the option to buy the home at a small percentage over what the city originally put into it. The city wins, the homeowner wins and the neighborhood wins because the people living in the houses have a reason to keep them up and feel a sense of pride as a homeowner. Then there would be less crime, less poverty and whatever else is bad in this city. If you renege on the loan, you get booted, but of course there would be a bit of leniency to the renter. After the house is purchased the city continues to make money from the property tax.

Put twenty million dollars into that and you actually have some plan to help people get back on their feet, as well as creating a better way of life for the neighborhood. We get to keep our architecture and our citizens at the same time. Start in one neighborhood and make your way to the other side and you have yourself a property owning tax paying city. Now you can talk about building new parks on the river because now you actually have tax revenue and citizens here to benefit from new buildings and you can pay to fix potholes and fix traffic lights. Any ideas? Feel free to comment. I have no money or political pull, so somebody help me out here. I want to live in New Orleans again, I just can’t afford to.

The End

12 Comments so far

  1. kapaali (unregistered) on November 13th, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

    this sounds like a smart, reasonable, good idea, which is probably why no one in our local government has had it yet or ever will.


  2. Owen (unregistered) on November 13th, 2006 @ 10:18 pm

    >>The property was free to them, so there is no mortgage.


  3. ali (unregistered) on November 13th, 2006 @ 10:34 pm

    There is a way under La. law for a private citizen to take a property. A classmate of mine did this before Katrina with a rundown place. I don’t know all the details, but it requires some amount of investment be put into the property. If a person had a few dollars, might be worth looking into it.


  4. Jack Ware (unregistered) on November 14th, 2006 @ 9:15 am

    Ali, I looked into this a couple of years ago and its hard to find info about. Basically, you have to find a blighted house – on the city’s blighted house list and get it livable and then move in. You keep track of your hours and material costs the whole time. Now, the thing to keep in mind is that the original owner can reclaim the property at any point. Thing is, let’s say the own property taxes for the last 10 years, now, depending on who their assessor is, they could owe between $10 and several thousand dollars, which they have to pay first. Then they have to pay you for your time and material costs, which, if you’ve been working on the house a year, might be a nice little check.

    There’s paperwork to fill out and waiting periods and basically, the owner can wait until the last minute and take the renovated house back as long as he/she pays all outstanding costs – and believe me, what the city allows you to get for labor was a bargain before Katrina, and the paperwork involved in proving your material costs certainly sides with the owner. But the city’s thinking is the longer someone works on it, the bigger the amount owed, and the less likely someone is to reclaim the property.

    I passed on the idea a few years ago because it seemed like too much of a gamble and I didn’t want to end up remodeling someone’s house for them at $6.00/hr plus free rent (or whatever it was). As for now, I sort of did the same thing, only I bought something cheap that wasn’t blighted yet, but would have certainly been in a few years if left unattended. So maybe the focus on blight should be set aside for the moment in order to concentrate on taking up storm damaged properties that may become blighted if not addressed.


  5. jack (unregistered) on November 14th, 2006 @ 9:21 am

    While the idea of taking over property and renovating might sound good, as someone else pointed out the city can not jsut take privatley owned property to rehab and use for private use. Eminent domain is only easily argued and enforced for civic improvement, not private or commercial use. The cost of legal battles would be far too much. Also, the riverfront redevelopment will be done by private developers for the most part with the city throwing in for the road and infrastructure repairs. There is a lot of rebuilding to be done which actually makes it a good time to be planning the future. Bringing housing, parks and connections up to the river was in the planning long before Katrina and should continue. hopefully the plan for the redevlopment in the area of city hall will go through and happen as planned and this new project will also happen. New Orleans is going to need to attract a lot of new people or get those that moved away at some point unrelated to katrina to come back to really get back to where it was before. We need to understand that a lot of people are not going to come back and these new ideas will hopefully bring back new people. As someone that had not lived in the city for about 6 years before the flood I have been thinking about coming back. Forward thinking like this project encourages me to do that even more. (however, I would buy an old house and fix it up, not a new condo, but thats just me)


  6. j. (unregistered) on November 14th, 2006 @ 9:30 am

    Besides, can you imagine the infrastructure costs of a city-run housing rental authority? What a nightmare. I’d agree that, particularly in nola, not ALL change is good. But you have to figure they’ve got a bunch of money now that they need to figure out what to do with, they can’t just take over entire neighborhoods, so, in their thinking, perhaps the next best thing is to try to put other civic improvements in place to drawn people in. Granted, there are better things that could be done, like mowing the grass in existing parks, etc


  7. Jack Ware (unregistered) on November 14th, 2006 @ 9:54 am

    I still have a problem with recovery money being spent on capital improvements. The other Jack makes a good point, if the Riverfront project is financed by private developers and the city’s part is only to provide roads and infrastructure then it doesn’t seem too out of line.

    I also don’t dig the stoic, unchanging attitude of New Orleans when taken too far. Change is good. Change is the natural state of things and it doesn’t have to happen at the expense of all the things lovely about the city, though it could happen at the expense of all the things detestable about the city.

    For example, a good example of refusal to change or go a new direction is the fact that Michael Glasser was just promoted after being re-hired last year after being fired the year before for doctoring crime statistics…wtf? At the same time, I would hope everyone agrees that, though a tough change to make, the elimination of slavery was a good thing with almost no cost to music, art, etc; and clearly even improved those things in volume and quality.

    Blindly accepting change isn’t good, but denying change en mass isn’t good either. That said…a mall? Really, that’s what we’ve got? And an IMax theater? Great. I hope the redesign is a little more appropriate than the last plan.

    The biggest issue I have with the redesign is the blind faith and investment in tourism. We need more diversity in our economy and it can be done with little impact to tourism. Las Vegas already has a successful model for doing this – we could use their model before because we didn’t have enough land available, which isn’t really the case anymore.

    just my $0.02

    BTW, why not bring back that amusement park at the lake (near what’s UNO now) that I keep seeing in old film footage on channel 12?


  8. jack (unregistered) on November 14th, 2006 @ 11:51 am

    and we should not forget that the city is looking at doing a lot more than just developing the riverfront. The Morphosis master plan for the city hall / Tulane Ave area looked great. that should be moving along faster than the river and will be a huge improvment to that area. I am sure there are a lot of people angry about it because the design calls for “modern” glass buildings. personally I like morphosis’ work so I am biased, but beyond the particular design I think it is great to mix in 21st century building to the existing fabric of the city. the different styles and ages of stuff exiting is what makes the city great and adding well designed, modern architecture and planning can only make it better whether it be at the river, in mid-city, downtown or at the lake. I just hope that given the public interest in planning and building right now things actually get done.


  9. barbawit (unregistered) on November 14th, 2006 @ 12:27 pm

    I don’t mind the city moving forward with these projects as long as they can provide existing citizens with services and infrastructure. They have not acomplished this yet. I can’t buy into these pie in the sky ideas until the city proves that they can manage what we have.


  10. Paul p (unregistered) on November 14th, 2006 @ 1:53 pm

    I know the city can’t just take the property, but what about the properties that were blighted well before the storm? Those landlords left the houses to rot for years. They are breaking neighborhood health and safety codes, so why can’t the city seize it because it has been abandoned? Just asking. Not arguing.


  11. Jack Ware (unregistered) on November 15th, 2006 @ 9:56 am

    I agree with the idea that the city should take long-blighted properties, Paul, but I’ve come to understand what a horrible, fear-inducing term “eminent domain” is. It isn’t a fundamentally bad concept, but its been abused over the years in a variety of way; to the point of even saying the words makes people absolutely certain “the man is going to take my shit”.

    As a result, it is very difficult for the city, state, and to a lesser degree, the feds to take anyone’s property. The laws are clearly weighted on the owner’s side. Generally, this is a good thing, but in this particular case it has allowed irresponsible owners to allow property to become quite bad.

    The other argument I heard (when the buy-out thing was first being discussed) was that it is not the job of city government to deal in land speculation, property management, etc. Government, being inefficient anyway, would likely turn the whole thing into a loss instead of a revenue stream, or, at very least, a venue to skim or launder money being stolen by our fine elected officials. I’m not going to bother to find the link but the TP had a story about Ray-Ray’s little company buying up property left and right while the mandatory evacuation was still in effect, so clearly this administration should not be trusted with ethical decisions when avoidable.


  12. Joe Kennedy (unregistered) on November 15th, 2006 @ 11:40 pm

    The government can seize property using eminent domain, and there was a case in Connecticut a couple years ago that made things even muddier. Before it had to be for public reasons, but under the CT case, eminent domain can be used to seize property and then turn it over to a private corporation. At the time I had the feeling it would be used to build a new stadium or something in Central City or the 7th Ward. Post-Katrina some thought maybe it would be used to get condos in the 9th. Who knows. And I’m no lawyer, so I can’t say if it’d even work in Louisiana.

    Also, seizure of property and ownership by the government is bordering on communism. There’s just something awkward about the state owning and taxing property that was previously private, even if the original motive to get deadbeat landlords out and offer housing to the people was legitimate. It just sounds really sketchy. Even if we’d like to get some of these trashy homes (read: dangerous pest breeding shells of nothing) torn down and good livable homes up.

    I’m sure everybody will think I’m an idiot for even speaking up. That’s okay.



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