LAFAYETTE — City-parish inspectors said they are bringing more scrutiny to abandoned and dilapidated houses after City-Parish Council Chairman Kenneth Boudreaux’s push for what he has dubbed “Operation Blight Out.”
Four houses are on tap to be torn down this month after the City-Parish Council voted to condemn the structures — a legal move that opens the door for local government to demolish buildings that are deemed unsound and dangerous.
“We have been stepping up the pace considerably,” said Larry Manuel, who oversees Lafayette’s housing inspection program for the Planning, Zoning and Codes Department.
Manuel said the department plans to bring one or two new housing condemnations each week to the council.
The Planning, Zoning and Codes Department has also begun keeping a centralized record of what blighted properties are on the complaint list, and how long inspectors have been dealing with a particular owner, Manuel said.
Manuel said, the department has been doing a good job of dealing with the thorny problem, and the process of condemning a home for demolition can only go so quickly.
“You always have to respect people’s private property, so you have to handle it delicately,” Manuel said.
Boudreaux announced plans for “Operation Blight Out” in April, saying that he felt city-parish government was taking too long to address blighted property.
The most obvious problems have been abandoned homes that sit for several months half burned or falling in on themselves, he said.
“We just weren’t moving aggressively on some of these structures,” Boudreaux said.
Manuel said aggressiveness in the housing inspection program has to be tempered by laws that protect private property from demolition by the government.
Inspectors have to make a strong case that a building is in such bad shape that it should be torn down, and then they have to try and track down all the owners.
That task is made difficult if there is an absentee landlord, or if the property has been inherited by several family members who don’t know or don’t care about it.
And the back and forth between inspectors and owners sometimes takes years.
For instance, the code enforcement file on the Sixteenth Street home that the council condemned this month began in 2005.
Inspectors attempted to work with the owner for several years, urging him to make repairs and board up the home to keep out vagrants, according to a summary of city-parish inspection reports.
The owner initially cooperated, but repairs stopped in 2007 and the house has been vacant since 2009, according to the inspection reports.
In the past year, the carport collapsed, and then the roof began caving in before fire badly damaged the home in February, according to the reports.
Boudreaux said that he believes a tougher stance by housing inspectors and the City-Parish Council could spur property owners to act before a house ends up in such poor shape that it needs to be torn down.
“When we take action, people come forward,” Boudreaux said. “We can address blight issues with inspection and enforcement.”
Manuel said housing inspectors have been active, resolving 280 issues since 2009 that he would consider blight, such as working with property owners to fix badly damaged rent homes.
Planning, Zoning and Codes Department has also overseen 103 demolitions during the past two years, some done voluntarily by property owners and others by city-parish government, Manuel said.
The houses to be torn down this month are all in Lafayette: 118 Ancelet St., 320 S. Pierce St., 205 Mabel St., and 224 Chag St.