The city's newest idea to combat the extreme blight problem in New Orleans would take some sweat, dedicated neighbors and lawn mowers.
The "Mow to Own" proposal would allow neighbors to buy a property at a steeply discounted rate after taking care of it for at least a year. Council member LaToya Cantrell is proposing the ordinance. Her office sent this statement describing the program:
The Mow to Own program is designed to primarily benefit neighborhoods where there is a lot of blight and the real estate market is weak. In these neighborhoods, since it has been difficult to move tax delinquent properties with the existing tools, many of these properties remain blighted and unproductive, increasing the frustration for those who live nearby.
"I am excited about this new tool," Cantrell said. "Mow to Own will allow tax delinquent adjudicated properties to be "sold" to a neighbor who wants the property and will take care of it. We look forward to getting more input from the public and working with Code Enforcement to establish how the program will work. We think this will be a game changer in some of our most blighted neighborhoods."
Urban Planner Alexandra Miller said the program would strongly benefit neighborhoods such as Zion City, which is 50 percent vacant.
"This Mow to Own ordinance is creating a way where communities can actually use these properties and actually get a hold of these properties and improve them, and they have not had that option so far," said Miller, principal and project manager at Miller Urban Consulting.
Miller said many of the lots in Zion City have already been put up for tax-sale but were never sold. Now, the leftovers sit with more back-taxes than they're worth.
The details of the ordinance have not yet been worked out, but, Miller said, the idea is that a neighbor could maintain a city-owned lot for a year, and then purchase the property without paying the back-taxes it had accumulated over the years.
"It is a really good deal and it is a better deal than you will get at a lot of auctions," said Miller.
New Zion City Preservation Association Vice President Jarard Rouchon said he has lived in Zion City for more than 50 years.
"We love our neighborhood, that's why we're fighting hard trying to keep it up like we're doing now. We're small, but we're big at heart, and with God we're making it," he said.
Rouchon said he has wanted to cut the grass across the street, but he'd be liable if he got hurt. Now, he said, the Mow to Own program gives him hope he can do something that would encourage his family, including his nine grandchildren, to move back to the neighborhood.
"I'll be glad to participate. That'll help not only me out but my family, my children, they'll have something to own," said Rouchon. "Everything would be looking beautiful around here. Our neighborhood would be better, people would be looking at it and saying well I might want to buy into this area but the way it's looking with all this grass, looking like a forest, it won't happen."