When they crunched the numbers, the map of blighted property in Baton Rouge looked like another map the District Attorney's office already had — the one that tracks violent crime.

Take the neighborhood of Brookstown, which contains a high density of blighted property and a rising crime rate. The DA’s analysis found more than 350 firearm discharges in a little over half a square mile last year.

"It's just a lot of fighting and shooting at night. … I try to stay out of the way," said Catherine Springer, who lives on Enterprise Street where the DA's office counted several distressed properties.

Springer said she’s been thinking of moving out but lacks the financial resources. She’s not particular where she moves to, as long as it's a decent neighborhood where she doesn’t have to hear gunshots going off at night.

“I want to feel safe," Springer said

Kevin Holliday grew up on Enterprise since he was a child and owns the house where his family currently lives, and the one across the street. While his houses are in good condition, Holliday, sympathizes with the property owners who want to improve buildings that have fallen into disrepair.

Asked if he gets impatient with other people who own abandoned houses that aren’t getting fixed, Holliday responded: "I don't own them. They've got to do what they've got to do."

The folks who live in the neighborhood all get along; it's the people holing up in the vacant houses who scatter when the police show up, he said.

Residents and officials have pointed out that there isn't a straight line between blight and crime, and tearing down ramshackle houses won't magically solve problems in high-crime areas. Still, several point to a connection between poor housing and violence.

Politicians, police and prosecutors say blight presents criminals with opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have.

"Communities are going to behave the way they look," said Metro Council member Tara Wicker.

She said blight contributes directly to crime because no one seems to care adding, “criminals like to go into places that are dark and dirty, and no one seems to report what they're doing."

It's a parish-wide problem, said chief administrative officer Darryl Gissel. Blight is not limited just to low-income areas. Hoarders, heirs who don't care for land when the original owner dies and other delinquent property owners contribute to blight from one end of East Baton Rouge to the other, he said.

"Thirty years ago people just kind of poo-poo'ed the whole thing and said, 'Oh, we can't deal with that," but now there's interest in fighting blight, Gissel continued.

Some preliminary steps have been taken to force property owners to fix abandoned, dilapidated and unkempt properties in Baton Rouge. The mayor and Metro Council members have vowed to do more, especially working with law enforcement to identify houses where thieves stow stolen goods, gunmen hide weapons, and drug dealers set up shop.

An ordinance requires abandoned buildings be boarded up or the owner can face a fine. But even if they receive a punishment, most people don't listen to the city-parish. Earlier this year, a city-parish attorney remarked that a "high percentage" of blight court fines are never paid.

District Attorney Hillar Moore compared the task of addressing blight to that facing Sisyphus, the mythical Greek cursed to forever roll a stone up a hill in the afterlife.

"The rock's kind of rolled over us for years and years," Moore said. "We really need to catch up."

One of the first steps will be determining the scope of the problem, said Rowdy Gaudet, assistant chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

When the city-parish says a property is blighted it could mean the building is falling apart or that the yard is overgrown, there are improper signs out in front a dirty pool or a junked car.

Condemnations, in which the city-parish tears down an unsafe building, follow a different legal process. Though there's a backlog of condemned properties, a little over 100 such buildings are demolished each year, said city-parish Development Director Carey Chauvin.

Police are more concerned about abandoned buildings that could allow criminals to hide evidence, prostitutes to work, or homeless people to sleep in unsafe conditions, said Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola Jr.

In the past few weeks alone, a shooting victim was seen running out of a house on North 30th Street before collapsing and dying. Police believe the homicide was drug-related.

Witnesses said the house was vacant, though it isn't on the list of properties identified as blighted by the city-parish Department of Public Works, which relies on citizen complaints.

In November the 19th Judicial District Court issued a search warrant for a home on Tuscarora Street which police wrote is "a narcotics distribution point" with evidence of marijuana, cocaine and MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy. That property has been reported at least twice since 2016, when online record-keeping began.

"In addition to junk/trash and debris residents are concerned about drug traffic," states a log from January of this year.

Nearly a year later, in December, the house was reported again, with the tipster saying it had been burned and needed to be torn down. The responses to the January and December complaints are both still marked "in progress."

There are several reasons why it can take a long time to address a blighted property, Gaudet said. For example, sometimes a property owner dies without a will, which means the city-parish has to inform all the potentially dozens of heirs with a claim before it can do anything with the property.

State law is deferential to property owners, Gaudet said. The city-parish's lawyers have warned against truncating the process so the city-parish won't be liable if they take action without going through all the legal hoops. And if someone makes the minimum effort to cut their grass or board their windows as required, and then the plants grow back or the building falls into disrepair again, the process starts all over.

Gaudet is heartened by signs the community is ready to get tougher on blight. In October, the Metro Council allowed blight court judges to substantially raise fines up to $1,000 for a first offense and $5,000 for repeat offenders. That may not have passed a few years ago, Gaudet said.

In the last year, the city-parish also updated a property maintenance ordinance that hadn't been amended since the 1960s, said Chauvin, the development director. The revised edition makes it easier for the city-parish to go after people who own property that isn't falling apart so badly that it needs to be condemned but isn't habitable either.

"It was difficult for us in the past to cite an owner," he said.

The ordinance has been applied so far, but not extensively, Chauvin said. It was updated in preparation for buildings damaged in the 2016 flood that weren't properly fixed. However, the development director said, his office has gotten only a handful of complaints directly related to the flood.

"The majority of houses were rebuilt or repaired," he said.

According to city-parish records, there were 1,064 blight complaints — excluding concerns about signs and pools — inside the inundation area in the six months before the flood. In the six months after, the number dropped to 469 but rose back to 1,172 in the six months between February and August of this year.

Those are just the number of complaints. Gissel, the CAO, expects many people have been giving their neighbors a pass on flooded properties, but that they'll soon start reporting houses where repairs still haven't been performed. The mayor-president's blight strike team is expected to do a deeper dive on the effect of the flood. Wicker expects they'll find a lot of lingering damage.

"We had a blight issue before the flood. It was ten times worse after the flood," she said.

Gaylord Lee's home on Fairwoods Drive with its well-tended garden is surrounded by abandoned houses. The house on one side of his was burned out in a fire. Across the way a tree has fallen through the roof. Last year the whole area flooded.

Lee and his neighbor Keith Brown contacted their councilman, LaMont Cole, who invited The Advocate to visit the neighborhood.

The residents worried about criminals stowing stolen goods in the abandoned houses or hiding out to watch when the inhabited houses are empty so they can break into them.

Lee noted that people “can just walk right in” to the abandoned houses because they aren’t secure.

Fairwoods was a nice neighborhood 30 years ago when Brown moved in, he said, but now, "it's like night and day."

The neighborhood kids who used to hang out and play basketball in the street now all scatter by sundown, Lee said.

Both homeowners and Cole said a large part of the problem seems to be landlords who rent the houses until they fall apart, then fail to repair them. It destroys the property values of the owner-occupied houses, but at present the city-parish "is kind of limited in what we can do," Cole said.

Wicker and council member Matt Watson, who pushed for the higher blight court fines, recently got the Metro Council to form a committee to recommend new ordinances. In the last Metro Council meeting, Watson said the blight committee wasn't looking to target specific properties but will consider proposed ordinances that would be enacted parish-wide.

It will give Wicker a chance to resurrect a proposal she had years ago but couldn't get backing to pass.

"We need a stick that addresses the slum lords," Wicker said.

By that she means an ordinance that does more to regulate rental properties as businesses to prevent property owners from being able to lease substandard housing. East Baton Rouge is behind other communities on the issue, Wicker said.

It's also an issue close to Moore, the DA. Yes, blighted property gives criminals a place to hide guns, but "the human side to it is something that's hard to calculate," he said.

Moore recalled going to scenes of deaths by natural causes and finding people paying rent to live in homes without electricity or running water. The substandard housing was stripping families of their dignity, the District Attorney said.

Some cities are taking inventive approaches to battling blight, like setting up programs in which prison chain gangs refurbish houses that they can buy at rock-bottom prices upon release. That helps former convicts get back on their feet and puts someone in a house who's invested in the neighborhood, Moore said.

He isn't sure if Baton Rouge has enough personnel to oversee such an operation, though.

Gaudet, the mayor's staffer, said the blight strike force will have to collaborate with redevelopment agencies so they can turn blighted property into productive land.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.