Zombie City: Public Nuisance Properties on NCDC Agenda Nov. 2nd, 2009

2220-22 First St. Cottage

2220-22 First Street There are less and less of these cottages throughout the city. They are becoming endangered.

The city of New Orleans has received CDBG funds to tear down more private properties. These were previously labeled Imminent Health Threat properties (IHT) and there were problems with due process constitutional issues regarding the notification of home owners of demolition. Today these properties are being labled as Public Nuisance Properties under Municipal Code 26-165 and section 28 and will be demolished through an allocation CDBG funds. Community Development Building Grants. The list, thus far, is posted on the city’s website.

In reality, most of these demos have nothing to do with building communities at all. What IF we took that same money and invested it with homeowners to do necessary repairs? Why is that not an option? At the end of the day, we will end up with more vacant lots in the middle of the city which is becoming increasingly ‘jack-o-lantern’, even in the areas which are fully populated, like Central City at Baronne.

After seeing the effect of the FEMA demo phase over the last two years, I would call this the 12-ft weed, flat-tire and broken down car fund instead of the CDBG money, because that’s what the neighbors are gonna get. Demos without rebuilding plans with real money behind them are nothing but fields of weeds and dumping grounds for old tires and dead cars and are just dead zones in the middle of block and which destroy prominent corners. It’s not Community Building Grants. It is Community Hollowing Grants.

The definition of public nuisance in the Code is vague. Code Enforcement never has to prove the condition which characterizes a building a public nuisance. We find inconsistencies. We also find that the city often refers to four year old reports from Katrina . . . and there is never a follow-up with a current engineer’s report on any buildings. We’ll have to see what the City produces in our packets which I won’t get til later in the week. I refuse to accept stale reports from four years ago. You really have to follow-up to be sure. For many of these properties I have done it over the course of years.

Sunday I took a total break from everything to go out in the field again to get some photos of these newly classified, taxpayer funded public nuisance, properties. One question I will ask at our next meeting on Nov. 2nd, in City Hall Chambers, is whether the homeowners will be liened for the cost of city sponsored demolitions.

I noticed that there are properties on the list from people who had previously applied for demos, (see Washington Ave) and who were denied demolition permits and have simply held out on blighting the property further . . . and are now again, trying get the city to do the dirty work of destroying something that could be refurbished. The owners of these Washington Ave properties really wanted to build two-story structures, more dense, more money. . . destroying neighborhood fabric, but were denied.

It was great to be out in the field early on crisp fall morning, I forgot about how much I enjoy observing/documenting New Orleans architecture. I haven’t done any photo safaris lately because a) I am in school and work full-time and can’t do the uploading in a timely manner and thankfully, b) Karen at Squandered Heritage and Michelle’s team at the PRC usuallly have it covered. But, we just got a bigger agenda and I got on it early.

In no time at all, I took some 70 photos and then went to work labeling and uploading. It’s a lot of work, especially the labeling. You can’t leave it til the next day, there are so many houses so fast you have to be organized and systematic . . The Preservation Resource Center recently has picked up the work of preservation news in general in New Orleans with a really handsome new Blog Preservation in the Present. They’ve been covering the NCDC agendas online with results available right after the meeting! But our agendas just got bigger and that job’s gonna get harder! 41 properties are on our agenda this time. We had a lull but things are ramping up again.

I must say that I am very grateful to Councilwoman Stacy Head for appointing me to this position on the NCDC, because no matter how busy I am, I really do love it and this weekend I was refreshed because studying law is very humbling and makes you feel like you know nothing, but the NCDC work is something I love and know and am very passionate about.

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