What criteria makes one blighted property ripe for demolition and another worthy of expensive and time-consuming repairs? Is it the history of the house, who lived there, the architectural style, or whether it is structurally dangerous or a haven for vagrants and illegal activities? How much weight should the desires and needs of the neighbors carry?
These concerns and others will be addressed at a blight forum Wednesday, May 25, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Church Christ Cathedral at Stuart Hall (2919 St. Charles Avenue — enter on Sixth Street). The forum and panel discussion are hosted by Jericho Road Episcopal Housing Initiative, and focuses on current demolition policies and how to address the thousands of blighted properties all over the city in order to best revitalize neighborhoods.
“Our discussion will focus on the big picture — blight throughout the city of New Orleans,” Alison Ecker, program manager for vacant land management at Jericho Road wrote in an email. “As this is an ongoing issue affecting all neighborhoods, we hope to draw a large crowd.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has pledged to demolish 10,000 blighted properties by 2013. Panelists at the forum will discuss the challenges and opportunities of using demolition to eliminate blight. Opinions about that subject vary greatly among residents and organizations in the city, with some opting for tearing down deteriorating properties and starting with a clean slate, while preservationists often argue for saving buildings that have been damaged in storms or have fallen into disrepair because of neglect because of their historical, cultural or architectural values. Residents who live near blighted properties often face problems with rodent infestations, squatters, vacant properties being used as drug houses and declining property values because of the deteriorating buildings and unkept yards.
Many sides of the demolition issue will be represented at the forum, with seven panelists representing various sides of the equation. They include Leslie Alley, deputy director of the City Planning Commission; Brenda Breaux, chief deputy city attorney; Pamela Bryan, director of the Preservation Resource Center’s Operation Comeback; Reina Ehrenfeucht, assistant professorplanningng and urban studies at the University of New Orleans; Jeff Hebert, director of blight policy and neighborhood revitalization for the city of New Orleans; Jane Mentz, general counsel and director of legal services for the Make It Right Foundation; and Ommeed Sathe, director of real estate strategy for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. Moderator of the panel is Jeffrey Thomas of Thomas Strategies LLC.
The forum is free and open to the public.