A 6-month-old program aimed at helping to rid New Orleans of blight by clearing abandoned lots of tall grass and garbage is proceeding ahead of pace, the program manager told a City Council committee last week.
As of March 15, the Lot Maintenance Program had cleared 657 properties in five neighborhoods of debris, grass taller than 18 inches and “noxious growth,” Liana Elliott told the council’s Community Development Committee.
That’s more than halfway toward meeting a goal of clearing 1,200 properties in St. Roch, Central City, Hollygrove, Little Woods, parts of Algiers and the Lower 9th Ward of “toxic blight” by September. Cleanup crews have started work in all of those neighborhoods except the Lower 9th Ward.
The Lot Maintenance Program is the result of a City Council ordinance that allows Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration to remediate — without the need for a hearing — any property covered in trash, overgrown grass or dangerous plants such as poison ivy.
It is one of several remediation tools the city has introduced in recent years to reduce the number of blighted buildings and abandoned lots around town. Others include auctioning off tax-adjudicated properties and offering ownership of empty lots to neighbors who promise to maintain them.
Under the Lot Maintenance Program, an inspector places a sign on a noncompliant property letting the owners know they have seven days to cut the grass or otherwise clear the lot. If the property is brought into compliance within that time, no fine is issued. If it is not, the cost of remedying the problems is added as a charge on the owner’s property tax bill.
The lots are cleared by teenagers and young adults from Covenant House’s White Dove Landscaping, which provides on-the-job training plus health and social services to the nine homeless and at-risk youth who are working on the project.
In 18.6 percent of cases so far, owners have voluntarily complied with the request to clean up their property, Elliott said. Voluntary compliance was highest, 28 percent, in the St. Roch neighborhood and lowest, 5 percent, in Algiers.
But Elliott said the program has encountered more cases of extreme blight than expected.
“It turns out a lot of the ones that are excessive are very excessive,” she said. Those sites cost more to clean because they require professional hauling services and equipment.
Elliott, along with Code Enforcement Director Pura Bascos and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Ava Rogers, appeared before the council committee to provide updates on the city’s progress in addressing blight.
In her presentation, Bascos said her office inspected more than 16,500 properties last year, exceeding its goal of 15,000 inspections. Code Enforcement also brought 4,010 properties to administrative hearings, slightly surpassing its goal.
The office demolished 212 blighted properties, short of its goal of 250, but Bascos said that was partly because more structures than expected were brought into compliance.
Code Enforcement had a goal of bringing at least 750 blighted properties into compliance in 2014; instead, Bascos said, 1,041 were cleared of violations.