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Re-development Act for Lower 9th Ward proposed

7th April 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Nayita Wilson
Contributing Writer

Two proposed measures known collectively as the Lower Ninth Ward Re-Development Act that would allow current and former Lower Ninth Ward residents and other individuals to purchase abandoned property in the area is scheduled to go before the Louisiana House of Representatives Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs later this month.

In preparation of presenting the re-development act, as detailed in House Bills (HB) 489 and 1001, before the committee, Rep. Wesley Bishop (D—New Orleans), author of the legislation, said he’s been meeting with residents to inform them of the act’s intent.

Bishop is also working with leaders on the New Orleans City Council, the City of New Orleans and the assessor’s office to iron out the details.

HB 489 is a proposed constitutional amendment, which would allow the parish’s “governing authority” – which in this case is the New Orleans City Council – to donate abandoned or blighted property in the Lower Ninth Ward to residents of that community.

Current law authorizes such donations by the governing authority of local municipalities, parishes or nonprofit organizations that agree to restore such properties.

This particular bill would require two-thirds vote from both the house and senate before being placed on a statewide ballot for voters.

HB 1001 would allow the City of New Orleans to sell abandoned and adjudicated properties it owns in the Lower Ninth Ward for $100.

In effect, HB489 would allow the majority of the property’s value to be donated. This would offset the purchasing cost and in turn allow for the property to be sold to residents for $100.

“I think it’s one way to make use of the vacant property that’s available to help current residents and also to attract future residents,” said Bishop who represents the Lower Ninth Ward and grew up in the community.

Bishop said the re-development act is a way to address the residency challenges the community has faced since Hurricane Katrina.

“The Lower Ninth Ward had extraordinary problems, which is why I think it is necessary to have extraordinary solutions,” he said.

Vanessa Gueringer, chair of A Community Voice, Lower Ninth Ward Chapter, said she met with Bishop in February to discuss giving residents an opportunity to own certain vacant properties in the area.

As Bishop moved forward with the initiative in the legislature, Gueringer and her group began mobilizing residents, which resulted in more than 200 residents attending a community meeting at All Souls Episcopal Church to learn about the proposed measure and to offer input into how the bills should be crafted.

“Overall, I want to see repopulation. That’s the biggest thing. As it stands, we have about 6,000 families here, and we need more people,” said Gueringer.

According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and 2000 U.S. Census, the Lower Ninth Ward had more than 14,000 residents pre-Katrina and approximately 4,820 total households.

The Rev. Willie L. Calhoun, Jr. has resided in the area since the 1950s. He said he believes the re-development act is “good” in that it focuses on repopulating the neighborhood and also gives residents the opportunities to expand their properties.

Calhoun said increased information about the bills’ intent has eased the concerns of some residents who were leery of having wholesale and commercial developers come in and purchase property to flip.

“The way the bill has been written is that it’s about people coming back and actually wanting to live in the neighborhood and not just own a piece of property in the neighborhood,” Calhoun said.

Currently, there are approximately 600 properties in the Lower Ninth Ward that could be sold under such a measure.

The properties are owned by the State of Louisiana or the City of New Orleans and are in the possession of the New Orleans Redev­elopment Authority.

If passed, the re-development act would give purchasing opportunities to three core groups of individuals:

1) current residents, long-term residents and residents who live near or adjacent to abandoned properties and commit to purchase, refurbish and maintain the property as well as former residents who agree to purchase, build, maintain and reside at the property;

2) individuals not currently living in the community but who agree to purchase, build, maintain and reside at the property; and

3) residents who moved to the areas after Hurricane Katrina.

Purchasing opportunities would be rolled out in phases with current residents having priority, according to Bishop.

The re-development act is proposed to expire after a period of 10 years.

This article originally published in the April 7, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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