Fox 8 Defenders: Reports on The Willows prompt law change

Published: Oct. 16, 2023 at 11:03 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 17, 2023 at 7:16 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A series of Fox 8 Defenders investigations has resulted in a new state law. Effective Jan. 1, local governments in Louisiana will be empowered to assess property tax penalties against nonprofit slumlords.

Louisiana voters approved Constitutional Amendment No. 4 last Saturday (Oct. 14) with 66 percent of the vote.

New Orleans City Council vice president Helena Moreno said, “Overall, the people of this state when they looked at this amendment said, ‘Do we think that slum landlords should get tax exemptions?’ And, overwhelmingly, they said no.”

Our Fox 8 Defenders reports highlighted deplorable living conditions for tenants at three properties in New Orleans and Metairie owned by a religious nonprofit from Tennessee.

The entity that owns The Willows, Parc Fontaine and The Bellemont apartments hasn’t had to pay a dime in taxes for years because of its nonprofit status. It also hasn’t paid several code enforcement violation fines slapped on its properties. Now, with passage of the new law, that’s about to change.

“You have to first pay your code enforcement fines before you can even pay your taxes,” Moreno said of the measure. “So, you can’t go in and not pay your code enforcement fines.

“This allows us to take (violators) to tax sale. Obviously, you can’t take someone to tax sale if they don’t have a tax bill.”

Moreno pushed for the law change. State Rep. Jason Hughes of New Orleans authored the legislation. Hughes says the amendment provides a needed tool to hold slumlords accountable.

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New La. bill would remove tax exemption status for non-profit ‘slumlords’

Child begs for help at Bellemont apartments

Nonprofit that owns Willows received millions in state financing

Willows management attempts to end lease of family who spoke to Fox 8

Its passage also is a big win for the National Council of Jewish Women, whose volunteers make up the Fox 8 Defenders. They have helped the community by examining consumer complaints with Fox 8 for the past 30 years.

Gail Chalew, president of the organization’s Greater New Orleans chapter, said she can’t recall another time in Defenders history that a law change has been initiated as a result of our stories.

“I know that they’ve been helping people for many years, but just on an individual basis,” Chalew said. “But this, we’re just so happy and this is a way of expanding the impact of Defenders.”

Moreno said she hopes this law change leads to a better quality of life for tenants across Louisiana.

“You brought something to our attention, and Jason and I were able to team up to create this policy and ultimately get a constitutional amendment passed,” Moreno said. “That’s a really big deal. Both Jason and I say thank you to Meg, Fox 8, the whole Fox 8 Defenders team, for really highlighting this issue.”

City Councilman Oliver Thomas, whose district includes The Willows, said in a statement, “Considering the problematic apartment complexes around our city, like The Willows in District E, I am happy that code enforcement finally has a tool to assist them to protect the well-being and security of our residents.”

The next steps for the New Orleans City Council include coming up with rules so that everyone understands what criteria needs to be met in order for the council to pull the tax-exempt status of a nonprofit that owns housing.

If you have a consumer complaint you’d like us to look into, call the Fox 8 Defenders, staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women at 1-877-670-6397. Or click here to fill out our online complaint form, which is the easiest way to reach us.

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