During my tenure as mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, I have committed to decreasing blight across the parish. This legislative session, my former colleagues at the Capitol will consider a bill — House Bill 466 by state Rep. Paula Davis — that will provide an important tool to reduce blight and strengthen our communities.
Blight is a problem affecting not only East Baton Rouge, but the whole state of Louisiana. Lowering the property values of neighboring homes and attracting criminal activity, blighted properties harm the cultural fabric of our communities by corrupting their identities. A handful of blighted properties can unfairly label once-bustling corridors full of families and small-businesses as “bad areas.”
In East Baton Rouge, we have more than 6,000 adjudicated properties subject to tax sale. While it’s true that not all adjudicated properties are “blighted,” the longer an adjudicated property exists outside the market, the more likely it is to become blighted. Growing backlogs of adjudicated properties are unfortunately common in Louisiana’s most populous parishes: 9,577 adjudicated properties in Caddo Parish, 1,159 properties in Calcasieu Parish and 1,850 adjudicated properties in Ouachita Parish are just a demonstration of the problem — and why we need a solution at the state level. These increasing adjudication backlogs can grow exponentially in the face of a natural disaster, like the August 2016 floods that inundated parts of East Baton Rouge, from which many of our citizens are still recovering even today.
At the heart of the blighted property concentration afflicting the city-parish are the burdensome notice requirements that come with purchasing some of these properties at tax sales. In cases where owners have truly abandoned property — for whatever reason — it is nearly impossible to provide adequate notice under existing law. Because of this, purchasing an adjudicated property is incredibly risky, often keeping neighbors, community development organizations, and other well-meaning potential purchasers away for fear of losing their investment. Without a way to decrease this risk, we will never be able to truly engage local communities and the market in meaningful rehabilitation of blighted property.
Louisiana must bring its requirements for notice of a tax sale in line with federal standards and provide better direction to tax collectors about how to best search for property owners and interested parties. I believe Davis’ HB 466 will allow East Baton Rouge and all of Louisiana’s parishes to slow the pileup of blighted properties and encourage development of the types of communities we all want to live in. Please contact your legislator and ask them to support HB 466.
Sharon Weston Broome
mayor-president, East Baton Rouge Parish