Property bill advances for Lower 9th Ward

Neighbors would get first purchase rights

Legislation that would allow the sale of many vacant Lower 9th Ward lots for $100 each is nearing final passage in the Legislature.

The idea of the two bills advanced Thursday by a state Senate panel is to jump-start development in a New Orleans neighborhood that has not recovered in the nine years since it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s an effort to repopulate the Lower 9th Ward,” said state Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, who sponsored the measures. He said the area “has not come back since Hurricane Katrina.”

A proposed constitutional amendment, which would require approval by the state’s voters, and a companion bill would allow the sale of about 600 abandoned lots for $100 each. The top priority for purchase would be given to homeowners living next to each property, followed by people who have rented in the area for at least 18 months, veterans, teachers, first responders and former neighborhood residents.

All buyers would have to redevelop the lots and live there for a minimum of five years after construction is complete.

In 2005, Katrina’s floodwaters sent a barge over a wall on the Industrial Canal near the St. Claude Avenue bridge. The wall collapsed, causing water to sweep aside homes and other buildings.

House Bill 489 is the constitutional amendment, and House Bill 1001 contains the statutory rules and conditions.

The Senate’s Local and Municipal Affairs Committee shipped both House-passed measures to the full Senate for consideration. If approved there, HB489 would go on the Nov. 4 ballot statewide, and HB1001 would return to the House for approval of a wording change.

No one testified against the measures.

The Louisiana Constitution prohibits the loan, pledge or donation of property or other things of value by the state or a political subdivision. The constitutional change would carve out an exception to allow the sale of the Lower 9th Ward properties at below fair-market value.

Bishop said a unique and extraordinary situation warrants the specific help.

The former Louisiana Road Home program lots in question are now owned by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, or else the authority has been charged with managing and disposing of them.

Bishop altered HB1001 in the Senate committee. Besides spelling out who gets priority for lot purchases, the bill now stipulates that no one with active code-enforcement violation notices or outstanding tax liens against property he or she owns would be eligible to buy the lots. The properties also would be off-limits to developers and corporate entities.

Under the bill, the New Orleans City Council would establish the rules and regulations to implement the program, in consultation with the legislators who represent the Lower 9th Ward: Bishop and state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

The legislation defines the Lower 9th Ward as the area bounded by Jourdan Avenue, Florida Avenue, the Orleans-St. Bernard Parish line and the Mississippi River.

It costs the city tens of thousands of dollars every year to maintain the lots.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB.

For more coverage of the state Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.