After the loss of the original Schwegmann’s, I ask: When will New Orleans act? We can’t blame FEMA anymore or George W. Bush. The failure to fix abandoned fire hazards in our neighborhoods (often used as drug dens) is our own.
Tuesday night, the original Schwegmann’s burned to the ground in Bywater and rendered a neighboring woman homeless at a time when we are all being told to shelter in place. We lost a significant building in the proud history of New Orleans. Thank God no one was killed.
The fire was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The woman said she had complained to the city for years.
On Sunday, an abandoned apartment building in the Lower Garden District burned to the ground. First-responders risked their lives and remained unsure for hours as to whether lives were lost in the building.
In the Marigny, Melvin’s Bar and neighboring buildings were destroyed by fire in December. Melvin’s owner had complained to the city for years, warning this would happen because of a neighboring building used by drug users. A woman in one of the adjacent buildings was saved by her cat.
When will our mayor act? This summer, I had a meeting with the mayor’s office. I raised this issue before any of these fires. Many of us live in wooden shotguns adjacent to other wooden shotguns. Blighted properties, often abandoned since Hurricane Katrina, are a threat to each of us and our families.
Do I need even to tell you the outcome? I was met with indifference. I was told, with palpable disdain, that Louisiana has eminent domain laws that protect the owners of blighted properties. That was either a lie by omission (from someone giving the residents of this city the brush off) or it was ignorance. Whatever the case, it was malpractice.
Our eminent domain laws allow the city to act in the public purpose. Further, Article 1, Section 4 (D) of the State Constitution specifically allows the city to act when buildings are being used as drug dens. There are then two independent bases on which the city could act to restore our neighborhoods blighted since Katrina and protect the lives of our families.
We need social distancing from blight.
Fixing the buildings which can be fixed, and demolishing the ones that cannot, is part of the solution to our affordable housing crisis.
I am cynical, though, if we cannot even fix the Hard Rock hotel and rescue the dead.
But I do not want to be cynical. The city has every power it needs to address the known hazards in our neighborhoods, especially when citizens make them known. Do it before the next fire renders more people homeless or kills an innocent family sleeping in their beds.