LAFAYETTE — City-parish government has condemned about three abandoned and dilapidated homes a month over the past year under a new initiative dubbed “Operation Blight Out.”
The condemnation process, which must be approved by the City-Parish Council, clears the way for a house to be demolished.
Since Jan. 1, 27 homes have been condemned, and another 22 homes are targeted for possible condemnation if the owners don’t fix or demolish the structures themselves, according to figures from the city-parish Department of Planning, Zoning and Codes.
“I think everybody has taken a more aggressive approach,” said Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who has been pushing the “Blight Out” initiative.
Boudreaux said abandoned houses are a critical problem in some areas of the city, posing a safety hazard as well as attracting transients or illicit activity.
The councilman requested the blight initiative last year, arguing at the time that it took far too long for problem homes to be fixed or demolished.
In addition to the 27 homes the council has condemned this year, 36 homes have been demolished by owners after they were approached by city-parish officials about problem properties, according to figures from Larry Manuel, who works with the housing inspection program for the Planning, Zoning and Codes.
“Ideally, we try to get the owner to demolish it himself,” Manuel said.
City-parish inspectors have also hired contractors to board up another 11 vacant homes that were structurally sound but open to vagrants, according to figures from Manuel.
Any action taken by city-parish government to demolish or board up a home is billed to the owner or owners, and property liens are pursued for unpaid bills.
Boudreaux said one the benefits of aggressively pursuing condemnation of abandoned homes is that it has prompted property owners to take care of problems themselves before city-parish government gets involved.
“It has encouraged some people to take care of their business,” Boudreaux said. “We are really getting some movement going.”
Condemning and demolishing a home is considered a last resort, and the legal process can be difficult, Manuel said.
Owners must given ample opportunity to take action on their own, he said, and sometimes just tracking down the owners can be a chore.
“There might be multiple owners,” Manuel said. “Sometimes, there are no owners to be found.”
In cases of multiple owners, state law requires city-parish government to make an earnest attempt to contact them.
That process can lead to hours poring over land and tax records, especially for homes that have been passed down through a family.
“You might have 20 owners to a house,” Manuel said.
Recent condemnation cases that have come before the council show that some owners try to make repairs but just can’t pull the finances together, and others make no effort at all and don’t challenge the demolition.
“A lot of times the parents have become deceased and none of the children have stepped up to the plate,” Boudreaux said.