Erroneous Demolitions

A few days ago I posted something from a private email correspondence, regarding the subject of erroneous demolitions by the city of New Orleans. Maybe I shouldn’t have posted it, because the author asked me to remove it, but has graciously offered a revised version — see below.

And I’ve got to say this is stunning stuff.

I can’t understand why the local media aren’t covering this story. Anyway, read on for the revised message that spells it all out pretty well, and please note the PDF (linked at the bottom) of info/tips for people who want to get their property off the demolition list. The author is a concerned citizen of New Orleans who wishes to remain anonymous.

ERRONEOUS DEMOLITIONS – A SUMMARY

The basic issue is this — under the Imminent Health Threat Ordinance [see Fact Sheet from City of NO], the right to tear down collapsed/blighted structures is being used by the City of NO to include just about anything damaged. Some people who fully intend to rebuild but are waiting on Road Home, dealing with personal issues, etc. are getting caught up in the rush toward demolitions. Strangely, some truly blighted/burned/collapsed houses have NOT made it onto the City demolition list, in spite of repeated requests by neighborhood groups.

To repeat, this erroneous demolitions issue is NOT about blighted/collapsed houses. This is about damaged houses owned by people who have plans or are in the process of rebuilding. These owners are finding it frustrating to appeal demolition, particularly given the “eminent domain” powers of the City of NO, FEMA and Corps. As one online comment put it:

“I would suggest that each person considers what he or she would do if the federal government or the City determined that THEIR house should be demolished – with no explanation of the decision and no compensation for the loss of value. It is a scary thought.”

A fair number of owners suspect that the Good Neighbor database of complaints was never vetted, but mindlessly turned into an “imminent threat” demolition list. Thus, minor complaints may have resulted in people being erroneously placed on the demolition list. The City of NO has not been forthcoming about its criteria for the demolition lists, nor the qualifications of the persons doing the assessments for demolition.

Getting your house off the demolition list can be an excruciating runaround — with the future of your property on a 30 day timeline. For example, City might tell you that you’re off the list, when your house is still on the list. An owner who was told on July 6 her house was off the list, later learned it was torn down on July 7.

In late July 2007, the City demolition swelled to over 1700 properties (Excel spreadsheet). Local groups analyzing this list have found it difficult, because voluntary (requested) demolitions are mixed with involuntary (City-mandated). One must call in addresses individually to Codes Enforcement to find out why they are being demolished. What neighborhood association or volunteer has time for this?

Each day, the City publishes lengthy pages of legal notices in the Times-Picayune on what it intends to tear down. This qualifies as “public notification,” even for those homeowners living out of town. Keep in mind that no one is going to check the newspaper on a daily basis unless they have reason to believe their house will be demolished. For example, some owners with building permits have been shocked to learn from neighbors that their house is on the demolition list. Neighborhood associations have been surprised to find entire blocks placed on the City demolition list. Owners are also supposed to be notified by mail, with a posting on the house itself, and on the City website, but these processes have been haphazard.

A random guess would be that between 5%-20% of whatever the City submits to FEMA are erroneous demolitions. These owners who are fighting unfair demolitions need the understanding of the public and the media to save their houses. Blighted housing has become a smokescreen, and it is important that the public sees the true picture before the bulldozers start arriving en masse and causing heartbreak to those neighbors who are struggling to return and rebuild.

[PDF: “Info/Tips on Appealing an Erroneous Demolition”]

8 Replies to “Erroneous Demolitions”

  1. Well, isn’t that special–my old house IS on the demolition list. And I had heard from a neighbor that the new owners had just begun gutting the house…. after having sold it to them in July 2006…. I will let the new owners know that they are on the list (if they don’t know already).

  2. A lot of issues going on here:

    Demo-phoria: The local newspaper isn’t on the story because they’re busy fluffing their pompoms for the new New Orleans order/mantra of “Demolitions! Blight begone (and solid houses with it but who cares about that?)! Throw the baby out with the bathwater!”

    Believing your own press: Somehow our city (and press) believes itself when it thinks that the demolitions have no ulterior motives or aren’t being done haphazardly. Why else would perfectly good homes be on the list? There’s administrative oversight/incompetence and then there’s redevelopment malice.

    If we raze New Orleans, the developers will come: Too bad the (re)developers won’t come even if the barren land is offered up to them on a silver platter. What’s in it for them?

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