Landrieu administration reports major progress in reducing blight

New Orleans has been cleared of more than 8,500 blighted structures in the three years since Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration launched an aggressive campaign against neglected buildings, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin told the City Council on Wednesday.

The structures have been either rehabilitated by their original owners, sold in sheriff’s sales, demolished or placed in the city’s abatement program, Kopplin said.

But New Orleans still has one of the nation’s worst blight problems, he said.

“If you are a citizen who lives next to or across the street from a blighted address, we still have a major blight problem. And all the progress that’s been made ... is not enough, and we agree,” Kopplin said. “While we’ve made tremendous progress, there is still a long, long way to go.”

Kopplin made the comments during a special meeting of the City Council’s Housing and Human Needs Committee.

Councilwoman Stacy Head, who chairs the committee, called the meeting to get an update on the city’s progress in reducing blight. The Landrieu administration announced plans in 2010 to eliminate 10,000 neglected properties by 2014.

The entire council was present for the meeting, which drew a capacity audience, including dozens of residents who wanted to tell officials about their experience with blighted properties.

Mark Redding, who lives in the Irish Channel, brought a map of his neighborhood with blighted properties highlighted to illustrate the breadth of the problem near his home of 12 years.

“We want to continue to invest in the area and we think it’s moving in a good direction, but we need the city to step up and do your job,” said Redding, who blamed persistent neglect by property owners and the city for the amount of blight in his neighborhood. “You want us to invest in neighborhoods? Then enforce the laws.”

There are eight blighted structures on Molly Adkins’ block of Dryades Street in Uptown, she said. Seven of the properties have one owner, who has not been responsive to efforts to get them improved. The listed owner of the other property is deceased, and the heirs have not been located. Adkins said the neighborhood is frustrated by an unclear timeline for code enforcement and the lack of communication to residents who complain about blight.

Other speakers encouraged the city to inspect rental units as part of its blight remediation campaign.

Of the 8,536 properties the city counts as having been abated since October 2010, nearly 4,000 were demolished. Demolition, however, has been a controversial issue. At a meeting on Monday, Head said major errors in code enforcement procedures sometimes have allowed homes to be demolished even as their owners were securing permits or actually making renovations to them.

Pat O’Brien suggested a two-track system that would send historic properties on a fast track to auction and also push nonhistoric homes to demolition quicker.

“Since a judgment ordering the demolition of structures is a very harsh remedy, it should of course be granted only in compliance with the law,” O’Brien said. “But to abate the many nuisances, perhaps we do need some new legislation that would have a bite to enforce the city code.”

Properties counted as abated that were not demolished or repaired by their owners were either sold at a sheriff’s sale or entered into the city’s abatement program.

The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority had a hand in returning about 2,640 properties to commerce, NORA Executive Director Jeff Hebert said. That figure includes 1,464 residential structures and 333,685 square feet of commercial space, including most recently the former Gentilly Woods Shopping Center.

A Wal-Mart store is being built at that site.