Dennis Persica: New Orleans agency still has plenty of lots for sale

BY DENNIS PERSICA

Special to The Advocate

It was one of the better ideas for reviving post-Katrina New Orleans: Those who decided to stay in the city after the flood would get the chance to buy a vacant lot next door to their own homes.

It would be a reward for those who decided to stay. It also would increase the incentive to remain, because owning an additional lot basically doubled the size of someone’s investment in New Orleans.

However, there was a wide gap between the hopeful ideal of the Lot Next Door program and its results.

First, you had to have an open lot adjacent to yours. If you were fortunate enough to have your surrounding neighbors return with you, then, unfortunately, it meant you couldn’t take part in the program.

And when the program first began, it applied only to the lots connected to the sides of your property, not the back.

Even if there was a vacant lot next to yours, it came under the Lot Next Door program only if it was one of the lots that Road Home bought out from the flooded property owner.

You may recall the choice offered to flooded homeowners at the end of the long and winding Road Home process. They could take a grant and start rebuilding their property, or they could take the money and run, after deeding their property to the state.

That left Road Home with a lot of land that was vacant, or soon would be after demolition.

From that surplus of raw land, the Lot Next Door program was born.

In the city, the Lot Next Door program fell under the purview of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which was created in 1968 as the Community Improvement Agency in those Great Society days when the government started paying attention to urban problems.

To gauge the success of NORA’s efforts, you need only drive around the city and see the number of places where a house sits on a fenced plot of land about two lots wide, usually with the house off to one side of the property and huge yard taking up the rest of the area.

However, you can also see how the plan fell short of the idea of filling in all the blank spaces (the jagged teeth of the dreaded “jack o’lantern development” model) by the number of empty lots and boarded-up structures still around.

We’re still trying to get over the shock of what happened to us 7½ years ago, so it’s not surprising there’s a lot left to be done.

Not many of us would have predicted in those dark days of September 2005 that we’d come back this far this fast.

The City Council recently approved changes to Lot Next Door regulations. Lots that share a back-fence line are now eligible for the program.

The new changes also mean that people who own rental property now may buy a NORA lot next door to their rentals.

Previously, participants were only allowed to buy lots adjacent to their own homes.

These changes will do a lot to help NORA move out some of its remaining properties. By one estimate, they could expedite the sale of about 700 lots.

But that would still leave about 2,000 lots in NORA’s hands. Combine that with the thousands of properties that didn’t go through Road Home and NORA, and it means there’s still a lot of empty space to be filled in.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.