Monday, March 19, 2007

Last Friday, I took a trip down to our future neighborhood for a walk along the levee (something I or we do on a weekly basis). I always drive past our future address on Deslonde before parking by the levee, always hoping that construction/progress will have begun. It hasn't yet, and it hadn't on Friday.

What I found, instead, was a notice from the city, that I learned today is related to their new "Good Neighbor Program." The yellow notice notifies the owner that the home has been inspected and found to be a "threat to public health." It gives the owners 30 days to address the problem, at which time the city has full recourse to gut or demolish the home and relinquish the property rights. Here is a link to the story in the T-P, titled, ominously, "City Puts Owners of Dangerous Properties on Notice."

Now, the home we plan to buy (once its renovated--a process that, yes, has yet to begin and which, yes, we have been eager to see start) is NOT a danger to anyone. The doors are nailed shut. The house is entirely gutted. There is no debris piled about, or shards of glass on its porch. And darn it, the house is PRETTY, even gutted and boarded up! Plus, it's an historic home! The only other home on the block with a post: another historic home waiting for what must be a careful renovation (especially if it is to comply with Historic District codes).

So after reading this piece, I go to the city's website and find out that "our house" (I keep calling this our house, but it's not yet, and I should remind myself of that) is an "imminent health threat," and that, according to the "Good Neighbor Policy Timeline", the house we plan to buy is already officially under the city's authority to gut or demolish as they please. Yes, the wording of the policy makes some attempt at sensitivity (a lien on the property will be placed "only in extreme cases," but according to the T-P article, this sensitivity has now been replaced by aggression:

"This ordinance allows us to move faster in demolishing structures and removing the threat to the public health,” said Anthony Faciane, Deputy Chief for Development. “Our code enforcement officers are identifying properties everyday. We are positioning our resources to quickly demolish or remediate these structures after the 30-day waiting period."

Again, according to the timeline, a notice is posted only after 30 days have passed. So our little dream home is now threatened by the city.

I wish I could describe to you how the other homes on the block look--the ones that haven't received notices. Two are slab-on-grade brick homes that were built in the 60s and do nothing for the makeup of the neighborhood. I'm not a purist, and so I do believe that these homes have altered the makeup of the neighborhood rather than destroying it, but to target our home and the beautiful (and damaged, yes) shotgun across the street! It's just so AMPLY clear to me that the powers that be could not give a DAMN about preserving our historic housing stock... about preserving our history.

So I have contacted the PRC, and now we wait. I don't plan on doing so quietly, though. I think this has happened because of an administrative error (if one goes to, one can do a search by address, and our address has never listed the new owner (the PRC). So it appears the women who survived the storm, and who sold to the PRC are still the "owners of record." And their address: 717 Deslonde... the house they opted not to demolish, but to sell to the Preservation Resource Center, instead.

I can't even imagine what would happen if this kind of administrative error were compounded by the illiteracy that is so common in our city... Again, the T-P:
"In order to notify property owners, notices will be sent by regular mail and will be posted on the property, on the city’s website and in the newspaper."

So I feel a special connection to this battle with the powers that be, and I hope that I can find the time to help the folks at Squandered Heritage, or the PRC to identify those homeowners--particularly those who own historic homes--before their homes are demolished. Me, I was just lucky, I guess, to be in New Orleans to see the notice, to have a computer to read about it, to read the Times-Pic, and to visit the city's website. All the rest of y'all's screwed. Thanks, City of N.O.

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