Blight fight shifts gears
CHERYL GERBER PHOTOGRAPH
Housing blight remains a pervasive problem across New Orleans, but recently the city has embraced a more comprehensive approach to addressing it.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has set a goal of eliminating or remediating 10,000 blighted properties during the next three years, a goal which, if achieved, would take a big bite out of the estimated 43,755 blight homes around the city today.
“Unfortunately, one of the things that we know is that blight is a problem all over the city of New Orleans and in every neighborhood,” Landrieu said during an anti-blight rally in the 7th Ward.
“There’s no other city in the nation except Detroit that’s got this number of (blighted buildings). So it’s large, it’s widespread. How do you eat an elephant? You eat it one bite at a time,” the mayor said.
Last fall, the city began hosting biweekly BlightStat meetings, which are modeled after the police department’s ComStat meetings and convene officials across the spectrum of government to share information and track the progress of the campaign. Code enforcement and health inspectors have been training in each other’s fields to address more issues during their work, and the city has been organizing volunteer residents to help during “Fight the Blight” enforcement sweeps of targeted neighborhoods.
The new strategy began not long after a report by the nonprofit Greater New Orleans Community Data Center highlighted some of the challenges and unique opportunities the city has in this blight fight.
For instance, the researchers point out that the government already has control of some 14,000 blighted properties, many of which were acquired through the Road Home hurricane recovery program. To speed their revitalization, the researchers recommend greater collaboration between the various offices handling these properties and nonprofits already engaged in neighborhood issues. But the researchers also write that any “permanent and sustainable means” of addressing such a large blight problem must involve jobs growth to increase the city’s population overall.
“Improved schools and other city services may help to attract some suburban residents back to the city,” the Community Data Center notes. “But New Orleans’ only hope of attracting sufficient residents to rehabilitate and inhabit all its unoccupied buildings is the creation of a vibrant, 21st-century economy that attracts thousands of newcomers from outside the area – just as the region did prior to 1980.”