Posted by: Tim Mathis
In spite of the remarkable progress in restoring disaster damaged property, urban blight continues to plague New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina left city neighborhoods scarred with thousands of decaying homes. Residents have been struggling to deal with properties that are not just eye-sores, but health and safety hazards that affect quality of life. According to an ongoing project by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, the city has reduced blighted homes to 43,755, down from 65,428 in 2008. Although this is a remarkable revival, especially in the midst of the recession, it remains the highest rate in the country.
The City of New Orleans set a goal of reducing unoccupied buildings by 10,000 in the next three years. Last week, voters narrowly approved Amendment No. 8 to the Louisiana Constitution which proponents argue will provide an important tool in the battle against blight. The new amendment removes the requirement that property expropriated for health and safety reasons must first be offered to the original owner. However, this has the potential to negatively impact low-income residents, especially minorities. Living in areas more prone to blight, low-income homeowners have less ability to afford an attorney to support their claims. In addition, some see a slippery slope ahead in that broadening the definition of blight will lead to a steady erosion of property rights. The new rule does not guarantee that blighted property will end up in the hands of attentive landlords. Policymakers and city officials need to ensure that the destruction wrought by Mother Nature does not turn into a man-made disaster.