In attempt to block a proposed barge-cleaning operation, Metro Council seeks rezoning of the property _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe

Several Metro Council members showed their support and concern for the East Baton Rouge Parish Redevelopment Authority, a blight-elimination agency in financial exigency set to run out of money by the middle of next year.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Tuesday was approving the use of grants for local nonprofits to develop low-income housing projects when Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe took note of the role the Redevelopment Authority played in the projects.

The authority was able to take adjudicated properties from the city-parish, clear the titles, and then donate the land to the nonprofits so the properties could be put back into use.

Adjudicated properties are those taken by the local government because property taxes were not paid. The properties are mostly blighted and sometimes abandoned.

Clearing the titles of these properties is a legal process that removes liens and ensures there will be no dispute about ownership. The process, which the Redevelopment Authority has taken on for many blighted properties, can be time consuming and expensive.

A Habitat for Humanity representative told the Metro Council that it costs them $7,000 per property to clear titles.

During a presentation about the projects, Loupe asked the nonprofits what would happen if the Redevelopment Authority went away.

“We wouldn’t have the resources to clear the titles,” said Helena Cunningham, CEO of National Housing and Community Development Organization, which was spearheading some of the projects that received land donations from the Redevelopment Authority. “We need the RDA to donate the properties.”

In October, Redevelopment Authority interim President Gwen Hamilton said the agency had about nine months left before it runs out of funds.

The agency, created in 2007 by the Legislature, has primarily been funded by a one-time award of $60 million in New Market Tax Credits, which is a federal program targeting investment and real estate projects in low-income communities. The tax credits have helped fund most of the projects the agency has invested in, and the authority has received operating funds by collecting administrative fees from allocating the credits to other organizations.

The agency failed to receive more allocations of the tax credits and turned to the city-parish for dedicated funding only to be rebuffed by Mayor-President Kip Holden. Last year, Holden blasted the Redevelopment Authority’s former president, Walter Monsour, questioning the agency’s effectiveness.

But with the agency on life support, council members Tuesday expressed a desire to find funding for the Redevelopment Authority.

“We need to fund the RDA,” Loupe said.

William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Holden, said the city-parish is waiting for the authority’s business plan to be finished. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation last year paid a consulting firm to write a business plan that could identify options for long-term revenue.

“We’re not going to let the RDA go away,” Daniel said. “After the business plan is released, we’ll discuss money.”

The primary role of redevelopment authorities is taking control of vacant, blighted, nuisance properties and putting them back into commerce so they generate tax revenue.

One of the RDA’s most high-profile projects is Ardendale, initially called Smiley Heights, which will have residential, retail and academic centers for Baton Rouge Community College and the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/