Next up for New Orleans' recovery: fighting blight

Thu Dec 15, 2011 3:07pm EST
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By Mark Guarino

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A city policy involving demolitions, inspections, community meetings and Saturday morning elbow grease is reviving New Orleans neighborhoods at a faster rate than most expected after Hurricane Katrina put 80 percent of the city underwater six years ago.

"This is a total groundbreaker for the city," said Allison Plyer, chief demographer of the nonprofit Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

"There's never been this intensive an effort previously to combat blight."

Even before the levees broke, New Orleans struggled with many of the classic elements that produce vacant homes and empty lots: systematic population loss, a troubled economy and crime.

Then Katrina accelerated blight. Some 110,000 New Orleans residents did not return to their homes in the five years since the storm, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In October 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, then just six months in office, launched a blight initiative he said was designed to turn around 10,000 properties by 2014.

By the end of this year, city officials say, nearly 4,000 properties will fit that bill, lowering the city's total number of blighted properties to less than 42,000, according to data from the United States Postal Service, which tracks such figures as vacant homes where mail is not collected.

"What happened is we got better at what we're supposed to be doing and that, by getting more aggressive, property owners know we're coming and know we mean consequences so they start to self-correct," Landrieu told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>Debris, including a stuffed fish, sits in front of a blighted house in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Lee Celano</p>