NEW ORLEANS, LA— Today, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that the City has exceeded its goal of reducing the blight count in New Orleans by 10,000 units by 2014. The milestone was confirmed through an independent study by University of New Orleans Professor Peter Yaukey, PhD.
Dr. Yaukey presented his findings at today’s BlightSTAT meeting, the City’s performance management tool for tracking the City’s progress towards reducing the blight count in New Orleans. Dr. Yaukey’s survey, the most recent authoritative estimate, found that the City has reduced blight in New Orleans by 30 percent between September 2010 and April 2013. The third party validation results are a culmination of Mayor Landrieu’s successful, aggressive, and comprehensive blight strategy launched in 2010.
“When I took office in 2010, New Orleans had the worst blight problem in America and no strategy to deal with it,” said Mayor Landrieu. “We got to work on this community-wide effort and we’re now fighting blight faster here than anywhere else in the country. Today’s announcement is the result of true collaboration between City government and residents with a common goal of improving the quality of life of our neighborhoods.”
After extensive public input, research on best practices, and advice from national experts, Mayor Landrieu announced an aggressive blight reduction strategy in October 2010 with an ambitious goal of reducing the blight count in New Orleans by 10,000 units by 2014. The strategy prioritizes data-driven decision-making, innovative new enforcement policies, and opportunities for reinvestment to grow and strengthen neighborhoods.
Read 2014 report on the City’s Blight Reduction Strategy
Since the Blight Reduction Strategy launched:
Over 54,000 Code Enforcement inspections have been performed;
Over 500 first time homebuyers have been assisted in buying a home through the City’s successful Soft Second Mortgage Program.
Over 4,000 properties have been demolished;
$3.4 million has been collected through the City’s lien foreclosure process;
Over 2,000 former Road Home properties were sold by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) and 75 percent of those new property owners met their compliance agreements by the one year deadline; and
The City has secured over $30 million in federal funding to reinvest in blighted neighborhoods.
“Our strategy increased enforcement and helped us turn the corner on blight in New Orleans,” said Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin. “Once the City started taking enforcement more seriously, blighted property owners started taking their responsibility more seriously, and as a result many of those blighted property owners have come into compliance on their own. That has helped us to achieve our goal.”
In 2014, the City is doubling down on efforts to reduce blight across New Orleans and will ensure the tools are in place to keep up the momentum. The 2014 budget invests nearly $500,000 dollars for new inspectors and title research staff to help speed up the process.
New process using data-driven decision-making
In 2010, the City launched the BlightSTAT management program in order to coordinate data and information to measure blight and track the City’s progress toward meeting goals related to Mayor Landrieu’s Blight Reduction Strategy. BlightSTAT meetings are working meetings, open to the public, and are intended to provoke constructive dialogue on what’s working, what’s not, and what the various City departments and agencies need to do to improve. Citizens are invited to these public meetings to ask questions and to provide input on how the City’s blight reduction programs can be improved. The analysis for BlightSTAT meetings are held every second Thursday of the month at 8:00 a.m. in the 8th floor conference room at City Hall.
“At BlightSTAT, we’ve proved that if you can measure it, you can manage it. I want to thank Mayor Landrieu, the blight reduction team at City Hall, and the hundreds of citizen activists who have recognized the value of data to drive results and have helped make BlightSTAT a success,” said Oliver Wise, Director of the Office of Performance and Accountability.
In order to improve efficiency, the City implemented a new information technology system called LAMA that is used to track all code enforcement and permitting activities in City government. The new technology replaced an outdated and unreliable system and now provides real-time updates across City departments that utilize the data.
In 2012, the City partnered with Code for America to create a website called BlightStatus, an interactive online tool for residents to track the progress of blighted units within the Code Enforcement system in New Orleans. For the first time in the City of New Orleans’ history, residents can now review up-to-date property information directly from City records without stepping foot inside City Hall. BlightStatus has improved the City’s work with neighborhood groups and individual residents in the fight on blight.
Restructuring and reorganizing
In order to streamline accountability and improve coordination, the City reorganized its blight fighting-departments in 2010. In the past, Housing Code Enforcement was responsible for inspecting blighted properties and Environmental Health was responsible for inspecting overgrown lots. To improve coordination and efficiency, the City merged those two departments, and since then, Code Enforcement has performed over 54,000 inspections.
The City also dramatically improved the capacity of its administrative hearings section so that more blight cases could be heard. In 2011, the average time between the initial property inspection and a hearing was 160 days. In 2013, that time was cut in half to 80 days.
In addition, the City now has dedicated staff for researching real estate ownership of blighted properties, preparing cases for legal actions as well as a legal team that files foreclosures on properties eligible for Sheriff’s sale. The 2014 budget invests nearly $500,000 dollars for new inspectors and title research staff to help speed up the process.
Better enforcement policies in place
In the past, the City’s code enforcement process was ineffective because owners of blighted properties faced no consequences for failing to pay their code liens and/or bringing their properties into compliance. As part of the new Blight Reduction Strategy, the City has strengthened the code enforcement process by utilizing the enforcement tools available in order to obtain compliance, including Sheriff’s sale or demolition. Since 2010, the City has filed writs of foreclosure on 1505 delinquent properties and demolished over 4,000 blighted units.
In 2013, the City Council passed new ordinances proposed by the Landrieu Administration that significantly strengthen the City’s enforcement capabilities on residential and commercial blight. Under the revisions, all properties must comply with minimum property standards, such as sanitary and maintained yards and structurally sound, secure buildings. Previously, this was only enforced on unoccupied properties. If a property is occupied, additional standards will be required, such as, ensuring that properties supply sufficient ventilation, plumbing, and electricity. These new requirements protect basic quality of life needs for all residents.
Creating opportunities for redevelopment
In addition to stronger enforcement against blighted property owners, the City’s Blight Reduction Strategy works to provide opportunities for residents to do their part to clean up their neighborhoods and/or to return blighted properties back into commerce.
In 2012, the City re-launched the Soft Second First Time Homebuyer Assistance Program. Since then, it has provided purchase assistance and closings cost assistance to over 500 households throughout the city. The Affordable Homeownership Development Program component of the program has resulted in the transfer of 70 formerly blighted properties to be rehabilitated and to construct new homes for persons of low and moderate income. In total, the program will have stimulated the rehabilitation or new construction of homes on nearly 200 formerly blighted and vacant properties primarily located in place-based development areas.
NORA is in the final stages of the NSP2 program having provided financing to over 470 units of affordable housing across the city. In an effort to promote commercial redevelopment, NORA has invested more than $8.6 million and leveraged $74.6 million in the revitalization of about 300,000 square feet of commercial real estate on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Broad Street and at the former Gentilly Woods mall. In addition, NORA has seen remarkable success with the Lot Next Door program. More than 811 Road Home properties were sold through the Lot Next Door Program (under both the 2008 ordinance and the 2013 revised City ordinance) since October 2010.
“Our partnership with the City is stronger than ever, and we will continue to work to provide opportunities for our citizens to redevelop and return vacant properties to commerce,” said Jeff Hebert, Executive Director of NORA.
As part of the City’s on-going effort to get the community involved in rebuilding their neighborhoods, the City organized five Fight the Blight Days and subsequently six NOLA FOR LIFE Days since 2010. The events leverage and foster community involvement while remediating blight issues and providing City resources to residents. The next NOLA FOR LIFE Day is scheduled for Saturday, January 11, 2013.
Strategy earns national recognition
In 2012, the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation recognized the City’s Blight Reduction Strategy as a “Bright Idea in Government.” The Bright Ideas initiative is designed to promote creative government initiatives and partnerships and create an online community where innovative ideas can be proposed, shared, and disseminated.
Additionally, the City’s Blight Reduction Strategy was awarded the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary’s Award at the 2012 Council on Philanthropy Conference for its public-philanthropic partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF), NORA and the Center for Community Progress (CCP). Through this partnership, New Orleans is developing a national model for addressing blight. Cities from across Louisiana and the country are working to replicate the success of New Orleans.
Hebert and Wise are 2012 recipients of the Innovation Award from the Bureau of Governmental Research. The Innovation Award recognizes employees who have used innovative solutions to solve pressing problems.