Ask The Advocate: Blight in East Baton Rouge Parish

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING. --  Overgrown front yard at house at 13724 Buckley Ave. The city-parish is giving the litter court program some teeth, and will be cracking down on offenders who refuse to address their blight problems.   Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING. -- Overgrown front yard at house at 13724 Buckley Ave. The city-parish is giving the litter court program some teeth, and will be cracking down on offenders who refuse to address their blight problems.

I thought that Baton Rouge had a program that allowed the city to tear down or renovate abandoned homes, buildings and places that have been left to rot. Is this not true?

Response from Mark Goodson, executive vice president and CEO of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority:

Eliminating blight and returning neglected and problem properties to productive use certainly falls squarely into the purview of the RDA and, specifically, our Land Banking program. Since gaining the ability to acquire and expeditiously clear the title of tax adjudicated property in late 2009, the RDA has acquired 125 formerly adjudicated properties from the city-parish via direct transfer, 113 of which have received judgments clearing the title problems that caused so many of these lots to languish for years. We are actively working to transfer these properties to for- and not-for-profit community partners, such as Habitat for Humanity and other housing developers, who can return them to productive use and — hopefully — fulfill other community needs, such as affordable housing.

The RDA is also working closely with the Department of Public Works and the Office of the Mayor-President to assist in the design and implementation of a new code enforcement program — one that will take a proactive, and targeted approach to holding property owners accountable for maintaining their properties and protecting surrounding property values. While still in its formative stages, the new code enforcement program will be based on best practices from cities like Baltimore and New Orleans that have seen their programs make a tremendous impact and ultimately saved those communities money in the long run.

Of course, the aforementioned activities will only be successful at a large scale if the necessary resources are dedicated to them. Having put almost $70 million to work in distressed areas over our first three years, the RDA is seeking a sustainable funding source in order to continue and even grow our programs, including Land Banking. As your reader noted, the effects of disinvestment and blight are wide-reaching, and impact ‘quality of life’ elements such as crime, transportation and property values. Working with the mayor-president, Metro Council and other leaders and stakeholders, we at the RDA are confident we can continue make a difference in the underserved communities of East Baton Rouge Parish.