New Orleans eases rules for Lot Next Door program

Program seeks rehabilitation by neighbors

The City Council has loosened the rules for the Lot Next Door program, allowing more people to buy properties that remain empty since Hurricane Katrina.

The council voted 6-0 during Thursday’s regular meeting to approve the new laws, introduced by Councilwomen Stacy Head and Kristin Palmer. Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell was absent from the meeting.

The Lot Next Door program began in 2007 and was designed to let property owners purchase the property directly next door, rather than opening the door for developers or investors to snatch up the lots.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve identified the obstacles,” said Jeff Hebert, director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which manages the Lot Next Door program. “We’re just looking forward to moving forward.”

Under the new ordinance, a property owner who shares any common boundary with a Lot Next Door property can try to buy that land. Restrictions are on lots that touch only at the corner or are across a street or alley.

About 700 lots could be sold immediately under the new ordinance, Hebert told the council.

The Redevelopment Authority took possession of thousands of pieces of property via the post-Katrina Road Home program. It has sold about 1,000 of those properties so far but still has nearly 3,000 lots in its inventory.

The process to obtain a lot begins with a prospective buyer notifying the authority in writing of his or her intention of buying the property by Aug. 1.

If only one person notifies the authority of intent to purchase, the agency will offer to sell the property at fair market value.

If two or more people notify the authority of an intention to buy, each person has to submit a sealed bid. The agency will then offer to sell the property to the highest bidder over the fair market value.

People who buy lots will have a year to bring the land into compliance with city housing, health and safety codes.

The Lot Next Door program will end Jan. 1. Any property not sold by that time can be disposed of through any other agency process or program.