Seeking to shed itself of the almost 2,500 properties left in its inventory, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority will adopt a multipronged strategy that includes focusing on creating more affordable housing, the agency’s executive director said Monday.
NORA is responsible for maintaining and eventually selling off more than 5,500 properties acquired by the state after Hurricane Katrina.
The agency has returned 3,082 properties to commerce through auction, development and its Lot Next Door and Growing Green programs, Executive Director Jeff Hebert told the City Council as he presented its 2015 budget request.
NORA still has 2,479 properties in its portfolio, most of them in “weak markets,” including the Lower 9th Ward, which Hebert said “continues to be a challenge.”
Hebert said NORA’s first priority will be to partner with private developers, community development corporations and other interested parties in neighborhoods where its structures and vacant lots have found no buyers. The goal is to put together plans for affordable housing developments on some of those sites. NORA does not develop properties on its own.
In cases where affordable housing isn’t an option, such as if the financial resources aren’t available or the market won’t bear additional units, then NORA will look at alternative uses such as community gardens, Hebert said.
In some flood-prone areas, the solution may be to use vacant sites for the collection and distribution of water to save the rest of the neighborhood from frequent flooding, he said. Sites where that would be appropriate “are fewer and far between, but we know that’s important,” he said.
NORA also has partnered with the Van Alen Institute in New York to think of creative ways to dispose of vacant land.
But Hebert cautioned that NORA’s ability to dispose of a property depends greatly on whether there is a market for it.
“If there is no market to buy the property, no matter how we cut it, then it’s something that we have to hold onto,” he said.
In the Lower 9th Ward, for instance, movement in the market has been crippled by the large number of abandoned lots and structures.
NORA controls only 14 percent, or about 700, of the total 5,100 vacant properties in that area, Hebert said.
So the agency will focus its efforts there on bundling properties that it owns with others, such as those that have been turned over to the city after the owner failed to pay property taxes, he said. NORA has the right to purchase such adjudicated properties from the city.
“I think that will tip the market if we really look at a concentration of properties, instead of properties where one may be on this block, one may be three blocks over, three may be four blocks over,” Hebert said. “That really isn’t going to be a strategy that attracts people.”
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said she also would like to see NORA exercise its power to expropriate property so that it can “green and clean” in certain areas.
Councilman James Gray suggested that the agency should update owners of unkempt properties in the Lower 9th Ward about new development plans in the neighborhood, in hopes that knowing about future projects nearby might propel the owners to repair their own properties.
NORA has 43 full-time employees. The agency has a proposed budget for 2015 of $11.5 million.
Hebert, who last week was named the city’s first “chief resiliency officer,” also provided a little more detail about what he will do in his new role and how it will work together with his job at NORA.
The new position is being created in cities around the world as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities” program, a $100 million effort to help cities prepare for the “shocks and stresses” of the 21st century.
NORA has been charged with implementing the city’s “resilience plan.”
Resilience work includes addressing affordable housing, green building standards, water issues and economic opportunity, Hebert said.
NORA already has been doing work in that field, he said, pointing to the “rain gardens” it has installed in some neighborhoods. However, social issues, like education and crime, will be new for the agency, he said.
“It is something that will take me out of my day-to-day activities,” Hebert said.
NORA will not be restructured as it takes on the new duties.
Hebert will be supported in his work as chief resiliency officer by an outside consultant, who will be paid for by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Editor’s note: This story was altered on Nov. 11 to reflect the correct number of people employed by NORA. A previous version of the story said the agency had 13 full-time employees.