Last week I was summoned to appear in Federal District Court on behalf of the plaintiffs in a suit against the city seeking damages as well as a halt to demolitions of properties under the city’s beleaguered imminent health threat ordinance. I was being asked to testify about the recommendations made by Bob Brown of the PRC and me in an August op-ed piece in the Times-Picayune regarding the demolition program.
I did not testify, because the case was continued. The city convinced the judge that it had a solution to the problem—it would create a system whereby a citizen could appeal to an independent hearing officer. By January 25, the city and the plaintiffs must come up with the system and an ordinance for City Council consideration. Between now and then anyone who wishes to appeal a threatened demolition can do so, and the demolition will be set aside, according to the attorneys. It’s not clear what one needs to do to file an appeal.
Under the current ordinance the city can threaten demolition of a property if the home owner does not clean out and seal up their property, if it is still vacant. They must also tend to the yard. Thirty days notice in the newspaper and a written mailed notice are required. The ordinance, though well-intentioned, is poorly conceived and poorly executed. A number of property owners in the suit have seen their houses demolished by the city, when they intended to repair them. It is noteworthy that the ordinance contemplates demolition as the only way to eliminate the problem of unremediated property.