Using a new ordinance that allows faster action on unkempt private properties, New Orleans officials are hoping to clear 1,200 lots of tall grass and trash in the next year, the latest endeavor in the city’s ongoing battle against blight.
A team of teenagers and young adults from Covenant House began clearing lots in the 7th Ward and St. Roch neighborhoods last week, part of an effort to rid lots in those neighborhoods of debris, grass taller than 18 inches and “noxious growth.”
The young people will move next to Central City, and over the course of 12 months will tackle neglected parcels in all parts of the city.
The effort comes after the City Council in February authorized the administration to cite and remediate — without the need for a hearing — any property covered in trash, overgrown grass or dangerous plants such as poison ivy.
Last year, the city received more than 3,000 calls about high grass, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Operations Ava Rogers said at a news conference Thursday at one of the lots to be cleared. But until the law was changed, reports of high grass had to be lumped together with complaints about more serious blight issues, and all then had to go through a process that included a hearing and could take several months to sort out, Rogers said.
Under the new process, 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 will be added as a charge on the owner’s property tax bill.
So far, about 20 percent of cited properties have been brought into compliance by the owner after a notice was issued, Rogers said.
“What it does is give us a way to triage,” Rogers said of the new process. “It gives us a way to work smarter and have a fast-track process for cutting grass.”
The administration hopes to clear 100 new lots per month and to maintain those lots that were previously abated with monthly visits to keep the grass trimmed. The administration estimates that will result in 1,200 initial cuts and 7,800 maintenance cuts in a year.
The work is being performed by Covenant House, which signed a cooperative endeavor agreement with the city in August to provide equipment and laborers.
Covenant House’s White Dove Landscaping will provide on-the-job training plus health and social services to the homeless and at-risk youth who work on the project. Eight to 10 teenagers and young adults are currently working in the program, and the number will grow as the number of lots that need to be maintained climbs, Covenant House Executive Director Jim Kelly said.
“We see that we’ll have an exponential growth in the number of kids who can be job-trained,” Kelly said. “It’s a double bottom line. Our kids can feel good every day they’re out there cleaning up our city” at the same time they’re learning valuable skills.
The program is slated to last for one year, after which time the city will look to neighborhood and faith-based organizations to help maintain the lots, Rogers said.
“I think it may be a little daunting to cut down a lot with grass up to your eyeballs,” she said. “But once the city and Covenant House have made the initial investment in cutting the initial cut, we hope that these organizations will pitch in and contribute to keeping it maintained.”