Article and photos by Charlie London
UPDATE FROM Nov 18 Blight Stat meeting:
Mayor Landrieu organized a blight sweep in the five block radius around Bunny Friend playground and William Franz school. Agencies participating were Code Enforcement, Environmental Health, Safety and Permits, NORD, and NOPD Quality of Life Officers.
The sweep produced 131 structures cited, 18 lots cited, 6 lots cleared, and one demolition.
Katherine Prevost – 9th Ward activist, City Services Director Ann Duplessis, District D Councilmember Cynthia Morrell, and Winston Reid of Code Enforcement celebrate the new aggressive blight eradication plan in New Orleans at the photo opportunity today on Desire Street in New Orleans. Photo by Charlie London
Click here to learn how you can help fight blight.
New Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu entered office with many formidable tasks. One of those tasks is to step up efforts to eradicate blight. With 60,000 blighted properties in New Orleans, that’s no small feat.
In a photo opportunity today, the Mayor, Councilmember Morrell, and Winston Reid, the Director of Code Enforcement announced that the city has dedicated funds to eradicating blight.
Winston Reid should be commended for his efforts to date. With only 12 inspectors for 60,000 blighted properties under the previous administration, Code Enforcement’s ability to fight blight was severely limited.
Mr Reid described the situation this way, “It was like being handed a BB gun to ward of a herd of charging elephants”.
As of November 1, 2010, Mayor Landrieu has promised the people of New Orleans that Mr. Reid will be armed with more than a “BB gun” to fight off the herd of blighted properties we have in New Orleans.
ONE TEAM. ONE VOICE. ONE FIGHT. ONE CITY.
“I’ve held community meetings in every council district and have visited nearly every neighborhood since taking office and one thing is clear– residents have been ready for this city to get serious about addressing blight,” Landrieu said. “It threatens our safety, the value of our homes and our quality of life. When we announced our comprehensive strategy in September, we put owners of blighted property on notice to get into compliance. We’re here today to tell you that today is the day. Get your properties into compliance.”
“This is a great opportunity for the residents of the Bunny Friend neighborhood, which comprises both Districts C and D,” said District D Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. “There is a tremendous amount of rebuilding going on in the area and the sweep will certainly enhance this development.”
“Blight eradication is one of the most important steps we can take toward reducing our city’s crime rate and making our streets and neighborhoods safer,” said City Council Vice President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson. “Removing blighted properties from our neighborhoods is also key to bringing people home to New Orleans, to invest in both residential and commercial property.”
In keeping with Mayor Landrieu’s commitment to place-based development, many code enforcement sweeps will be targeted within a five-block radius of open schools, playgrounds, and high-traffic commercial corridors. Mayor Landrieu’s goal is to inspect over 1600 properties per month.
Mayor Landrieu has committed approximately $16 million in his 2011 budget proposal, which is subject to City Council approval, to fight blight.
In addition to aggressive enforcement and inspections, the City has committed to utilizing Sheriffs sales for property disposition since they are the most cost-effective tools for seizing blighted properties and returning them to commerce. The City is in the process of coordinating blight-tracking information systems housed in various city departments. Deputy CAO Ann Duplessis is in the process of consolidating the two departments which oversee blight enforcement—Code Enforcement and Environmental Health—into a unified, streamlined Code Enforcement & Hearings Bureau. Mayor Landrieu also hired a Director of Blight Policy & Neighborhood Revitalization to oversee all blight strategy development. Additionally, the city will convene monthly CitiStat accountability meetings with key staff, which will be open to the public, to monitor progress in meeting citywide blight goals. The first BlightStat meeting will be held at 8AM on Thursday, November 4, at City Hall.
Based on new data from the U.S. Postal Service and Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, it is estimated that there are an estimated 58,000 blighted and/or vacant addresses in New Orleans today. This estimate—which accounts for the highest percentage of blighted property in the country– includes both residential and commercial property.
“We must continue to reduce blighted properties at a steady pace to spur economic growth and provide neighborhood stability,” concluded Landrieu. “It’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to successfully tackle the level of blight we have in New Orleans. We know our strategy will help catalyze neighborhood revitalization and economic development across our beloved city, and we are asking all New Orleanians to join us in this effort.”