FOX 8 Investigates: Neglecting their neighbors - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

FOX 8 Investigates: Neglecting their neighbors

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New Orleans, La. -

Blight has been a huge problem in New Orleans for decades and only got worse after Hurricane Katrina.  Today, the city's more aggressive and getting rid of blight a lot faster.  But it's not fast enough for one Gentilly neighborhood.

When we first visited Kennon Avenue more than two years ago, Peggy Clark was beyond frustrated about four houses in a row in the 4300 block.

She had a message for the owners of the properties.  "If you're not going to do anything with your property, could you please sell it?  Because it's making the whole neighborhood look bad," said Clark.

Now, more than seven years after Hurricane Katrina, those same four houses are still blighted today.

"For us the neighbors, it's been a living hell," says Barbara Braxton, who lives across the street.

She and the rest of the neighbors say they've had enough.

"I don't believe there's any excuse. This should have been torn down after we first started complaining seven years ago, says Jacquelyn Santa Cruz.

While most of Kennon Avenue has been rebuilt and reoccupied since Katrina, 4315, 4321, 4329 and 4337 Kennon Ave. sit untouched.

At 4321 Kennon, you can hardly see the house through the jungle out front.

64-year-old Paulette Peters says, "I come out to go to work at night and I don't know who's come out these bushes. I've seen raccoons run out of there, but I don't know who's going to come out and try to hijack me or whatever."

The mostly elderly neighbors, who've lived here for decades, aren't just disgusted -- they're scared.

"Me and my daughter live together and she's partially blind," says 81-year-old Alvina Green. "I worry that people can hide in those bushes at night and come around when we're sleeping."

And they should be worried.  One person's already been arrested inside one of the homes this year.

Braxton says, "They stole all the pipes, aluminum windows and all. In fact, when police arrested them a couple of months ago, they were in there stealing windows."

Frustrated neighbors also say vagrants set another one of the blighted homes on fire.

They say they were shocked when someone with the city recently told them the previous blight cases involving the properties had somehow been closed and labeled invalid.

"So I called back to find out why it was invalid, says Braxton. "The gentleman said because he could not see the address of the houses. Well of course with a jungle, you can't see the addresses."

Pura Bascos, the director of code enforcement at City Hall, says that information was incorrect.

"I do not know where they got that response. If there is no numerical on the building, it does make the search harder because we have to make sure we've got the right address," says Bascos.

She says, aside from some pockets of blight, there's been more progress than ever to clean up the city.  To date in 2012, she says they've demolished over 800 buildings and set more than 3,000 code enforcement hearings.

Bascos says, "We have abated 1,800 properties in New Orleans.  533 of them were the result of property owners coming in and complying before it ever got to a hearing, but it was the result of us sending notices that, hey, your property is in violation, come do something about it."

The 4300 block of Kennon has not been not part of that progress, and neighbors say they feel like their hands are tied.

"If we decided we wanted to sell our house tomorrow, there would be no way. No way," says another neighbor, Talita Allison.  "The first thing you see is this blighted situation and you know that it brings in rodents, rats, raccoons, and it's just a problem."

Last month, the city did reopen investigations into all four properties.  City documents show all four houses were inspected on October 4, with code enforcement slapping each property with between eight and 12 violations.

Neighbors say the city and the property owners share responsibility.  Allison says, "I think the city has an obligation to people who live here to do something about this blight situation.  But I also think the homeowners should take a stand.  It's their properties, so they should work to get rid of this."

The city says getting to the owners can be difficult if they've moved or passed away, with the property tied up in succession.

Here's what FOX 8 was able to track down:

According to the city's assessor, the owner of 4315 Kennon lives in Austin, Texas and is up to date on taxes.

But according to state records, Ernest Smith's widow did receive Road Home money after the storm and didn't use it on repairs.

The Cantrelle's, who owned 4321 Kennon, are both deceased. Today, there are more than $3,700 in taxes owed. Their granddaughter, who lives in Georgia and had power of attorney, received the Road Home money, but she's not listed on the assessor's site as one of the owners.

At 4329, the homeowners are deceased and relatives who live in Oregon now own the property. There was no Road Home money involved but a few hundred dollars in back taxes are owed.

Bascos says there was glitch in the system years ago, which caused delays. "4321 and 4329 I believe had judgments against them in 2007,"says Bascos. "However it appears the service we got on them was faulty, so the judgments were not good and we had to restart them."

And with 4337 Kennon Ave, there are more than $4,000 in back taxes and fines, also Road Home money received but not spent on repairing the house. The owner lives in the area, the bank foreclosed on the property, and the house went up for auction by the sheriff's office Wednesday.

No one even bid on it, so it goes back on the auction block in January.

In the meantime, the city's asking these taxpaying citizens living with blight to be patient.

"Our service has improved. We're more aggressive in prosecuting cases, so we're asking owners to give us a little more time to make sure we get these people and properties in the right place," says Bascos.

Neighbors say that'll be tough.

"I think they've had enough time, says Allison. "We're going on 7 years and I really think there's no excuse for it. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now."

The city started inspecting the 4 properties in late 2006 and early 2007.

There were actually guilty judgments in 2009 on three of the properties.

The city says because the owners weren't served properly, the judgments were no good, and they had to start all over.

They just began the process again last month.

Without a good judgment, the city says it can't even cut the grass on someone's property.

To follow a blighted property thru the code enforcement process, there's a new website. Log onto www.blightstatus.nola.gov .

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