Bulldozing in the Lower 9th Ward
by Bobbi Walker
Saturday, May. 05, 2007 at 12:51 PM
City workers have demolished more than 20 homes in the Lower 9th Ward during the last three weeks, several of which were structurally sound.
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Whether made of straw, sticks or bricks homes standing in the Lower 9th in the aftermath of Katrina’s huffing and puffing now fear city of New Orleans’ bulldozers.
Iris Gladney is fighting to keep her home standing. Her house is brick and shaded by a large cypress tree. She has a contractor’s report verifying its structural stability. She met this week with Road Home officials to finalize her restoration funds.
Yet her house is listed for demolition and the dozers are chewing through houses only blocks away.
In February city council members approved an ordinance (26-264a) allowing the city to demolish or remediate any property deemed “an imminent health threat.” The ordinance calls for notification of the registered owner of the property and begins counting the 30-business days before the city will destroy the structure.
Registered owners are notified via standard mail sent to their last known address (sometimes the empty home), publication in the Times-Picayune or by a pink-colored notice tacked onto the building in question.
More than three weeks ago volunteers from Common Ground Relief began canvassing the Lower 9th ward cross-referencing homes with pink notices against those published in the Times-Picayune, and those appearing on a difficult-to-find city of New Orleans website. Not surprisingly several homes appearing in the paper or the database did not have notices, and vice-versa, several homes with notices had never appeared in the paper or on the city’s searchable database.
Surprising is the number of these homes which are slightly-damaged brick structures, which appear to be sound. Many of them are gutted and mold remediated, but still they stand with pink slips dangling in door frames or stuffed in mailboxes.
But because the different forms of notice happen as much as three weeks apart – and receipt of the mailed notice is unlikely – homeowners have no way to know the beginning of the 30-day period.
“They found me when they wanted me to vote for (Ray) Nagin,” Gladney said. “But they couldn’t find me to tell me about my house?”
She never received a letter, and is actively pursuing all means to keep her home. She even allowed her home to be photographed for an upcoming story in the Times-Picayune about the city’s destruction of structurally sound homes.
Unfortunately misinformation is as rampant as the destruction. The city lists two phone numbers. One is printed on the tacked notices. And another listed in the Times-Picayune claiming to be “dedicated to providing information regarding demolitions,” which rings to the city’s general information line. Operators of the second line say they do not deal with demolition questions.
The number on the pink notice is no less a gamble. Ms.Gladney was told if she just kept the house gutted, mold remediated, secured and neat, then her house would not be demolished. Almost a month later, although she was in full compliance, her home was listed for demolition in the Times.
There are many problems with the city’s process. After offering legal owners the option to present their objections in writing, the policy reads: "The City of New Orleans makes no legal representation that relief will or will not be granted.” When residents have provided written objections the city has not only refused to answer the objection, representatives even refused to document receipt of the material provided.
The lack of response and vague phrasing “imminent threat” is randomly and inequitably applied.
A gutted, boarded home in the 1900 block of Tricou St. is a threat, and slated to be razed.
But at the corner of Delery and Dorgenois streets a two-story house, washed up from across the street sits atop an old Camaro. This house does not appear on any demolition list.
Explanations offered city workers destroying homes on nearby Charbonnet Street are an eerie look inside city official’s interest in tourism.
“That’s a landmark, everyone takes pictures of it,” said an unnamed city employee. “We’re leaving it and the one where we found the last body until last.”
During the time Common Ground volunteers have been searching for homeowners and offering legal advocacy to anyone interested in fighting to save a home from destruction, the city has torn down more than 20 homes. Whole blocks of the Lower 9th are sectioned off during the day. No voices shout in protest, the sound of the bulldozers competes only with the sound of an ice-cream truck serving contractors and city employees.