City Councilman's property in disrepair
New Orleans, L.A. - Irma Blackmon's lower 9th ward home is in the middle of overgrown lots and structures that remain in disrepair after Katrina.
"I figure it's 2012 now. Some of these structures should have been torn down. They should have been renovated or just cleared because it's a nuisance," says Blackmon
It's a nuisance that Blackmon says she's been forced to live with for years. She points to two structures, one of them a triplex located at 2221/2223 Deslonde St.
There are broken windows and a destroyed front door giving the appearance of yet another blighted and abandoned property.
This property, though, is set apart from the others both by its owner and the money allocated to renovate it.
In a joint investigation with our partners at the LENS, FOX 8 discovered the former rental property is owned by Councilman Jon Johnson, who also represents District E.
"This is a horrible situation. This entire block is blighted and this piece of property belongs to our council person so what does that say to the residents that live in this community," says Vanessa Gueringer
According to the Assessor's office, Johnson purchased the property in 1979 for 32,800 dollars.
In August of 2005, it was destroyed during Katrina.
Johnson was issued a permit worth 80,000 dollars to rebuild his triplex in 2007, but that didn't happen.
"Jon lives as far removed from this place as possible. He lives in Eastover, so I guess in his mind, it's out of sight, out of mind, but we live here," says Gueringer
According to the documents obtained by the LENS, Johnson was awarded a loan through the state on July 26th of last year.
Those documents show Johnson was awarded 166,000 dollars by the state under the small rental program. The program rules state, an applicant has 9 months to complete the work.
"To have a piece of property sitting here and you got that kind of money and you make 84,000 dollars a year on top of that and you've done nothing with it is terrible. We are coming up on 7 years since the storm," says Gueringer
The program, administered by the state uses Community Block Grant Development funds to create more affordable housing, as well as mitigate blight.
While the state does not release information about the details of a specific property, a spokesperson for the state says typically at closing the applicant receives a 50 percent advance on the money. 30 percent is given during renovation and the remaining 20 percent will be released after the project is complete.
Remember, according to the documents obtained by the LENS, Johnson was awarded 166,000 dollars so he should have received 83,000 at the closing.
We spoke with Johnson by phone and he refused to do an on-camera interview. Johnson stated that the building's roof had been replaced several months ago.
He said no other work has been done since then because he had a death in the family, but insisted that the property is under renovation.
"A lot of people can't handle it. We have people come through here walking. We have people come through here jogging and with the small kids and high grass, it's not good,' says Blackmon
Properties surrounding Johnson's triplex have been cited through the city's Code Enforcement Office for overgrown grass and blight.
Blackmon says she's often had to cut the grass on those properties herself to keep spiders and other wildlife out of her home.
On Johnson's property, the grass is maintained but according to Chapter 28 of the city's Code Enforcement, 'Exterior walls must be free from holes, breaks and loose or rotting materials. Windows, skylights, doors and frames shall be kept in good condition and weather tight'.
Johnson's property, though, has never been cited through Code Enforcement.
"It has no boarded windows and it does not look that it can even be renovated, so we are saying, why are taxpaying citizens of this community , who are struggling with quality of life issues every day being cited by Code Enforcement, in some cases 500 dollars a day and our council person is getting a free pass. Why?" says Gueringer.
By phone, Johnson insisted his property is not blighted. He says the windows are simply open to ventilate the house and he says every night, they are shut and then re-opened the next day.
People who live in the lower 9th ward are fed up.
"Jon needs to clean up this property, either have it demolished, bring it up to par or give the money back to the state," says Gueringer
"Jon, please clean up your mess. I think you have your money by now. Please clean up your mess," says Blackmon
The city now says the property was inspected May 14th. That's just four days after the LENS started asking questions. The city says the property will be cited and moved towards an administrative hearing.