Property owners in Baton Rouge who take care of neighboring lots that are abandoned or blighted could be first in line to purchase those properties in the future.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council is expected to vote this week on the creation of a “mow to own” program, similar to those in a few other cities, including New Orleans.
Those eligible would spend at least a year taking care of adjoining property that’s adjudicated — meaning the taxes haven’t been paid on it — and then they could receive first preference on buying the property without having to go to auction.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker introduced the program after growing tired of seeing the number of overgrown lots and abandoned properties in her district, which includes parts of north Baton Rouge, downtown and Old South Baton Rouge.
She’s spent years trying to find blight elimination initiatives and said this is another step in the process. She said many people have asked her how they can buy neighboring properties they maintain.
“They’re already been maintaining them, taking care of them; we just want to reward their efforts and help our community minimize blight,” Wicker said.
The “mow to own” program would set local guidelines for enforcing state laws, which already allow adjoining landowners preference on buying adjudicated properties that they have cared for over a yearlong period. But Wicker said people in Baton Rouge have not taken advantage of the state laws, and she wants more attention drawn to them.
Wicker said “mow to own” should expedite the process of people trying to buy their blighted, neighboring properties because it’s a direct sale. The properties would come off of blight rolls, and Wicker hopes the new owners would put them back into commerce by building or expanding houses, businesses, community gardens, green spaces and more.
If the Metro Council approves the program, it would be the second major initiative this year to clear adjudicated properties off the city-parish tax rolls. The city-parish partnered with the website CivicSource.com in February in hopes of selling off thousands of pieces of property on which their owners stopped paying taxes.
City-parish leaders said then that they hoped having people willing to buy, maintain and pay property taxes on abandoned and blighted properties would add money to the city-parish’s pocketbook. More than 2,000 properties are still available as part of that initiative.
At a time when many have questioned the lack of business and economic investment into north Baton Rouge, Wicker called blight an economic issue. She said curing it could be an economic driver.
“When you drive into a community and you see overgrown lots, blighted properties ... that sends a signal that nobody really cares about this community, nobody wants to invest in this community,” Wicker said.
New Orleans, St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee, already have mow-to-own programs. The New Orleans City Council approved the initiative in 2014.
Wicker said she has heard success stories from other cities with the blight-elimination tool.
“It gives us an opportunity to really lay a foundation to build community renewal upon,” she said.