Today many Citizens concerned with this issue of the City’s Imminent Threat Demolition List appeared in Chambers to see that the old ordinance was updated to address the chaotic situation on the ground.
The Squandered Heritage team and the Preservation Resource Center and the local representatives from the National Trust worked together over the past few days to construct some recommendations, a wish list, if you will, of how we could fix this process at the City level.
The most effective way to do this in this urgent situation was to amend the original ordinance, which was broad and outdated. Ordinances are living documents. We were able to fix some issues with this ordinance and can continue to work on it as we tackle the more complicated issues.
Thanks to the entire City Council for their support of this amendment. While not completely perfect, it certainly addressed some urgent concerns.
We had the issues of public notice and written confirmation from the City after being removed from the list in the forefront of our minds as we created the recommendations as these were key areas where the process was flawed.
I have listed the changes in the ordinance with their corresponding line numbers.
Public Notice – Included in the amendment is a provision for the Imminent Threat list to be accessible online at the City’s website and updated as properties are reinspected and removed from the list. (LINE 23)
Legal Public Notice usually depends on Certified Mail. Homeowners need to be sure their mailing address in the city’s tax assesor database is current to start. Some will still slip through cracks as we have seen but we were unsure how to create anything more ‘traceable’ for this instrument. We urge homeowners to be diligent in this first step.
There are other means of posting public hearing notice for such things as zoning changes but we could not come to that sort of official public notice which was truly practical aside from the Public Notice listed in the Times Picayune.
Point of Contact / Person in Charge of the List (LINE 35) Winston Reid is the person at the wheel of Code Enforcement and will be in the person in charge of the Imminent Threat to Health and Safety Demolition List. We talked about the fact that Winston will need more staff but that language can’t actually go in the ordinance.
Complete re-vetting of the entire list. According to the amendment, this will happen on the back end in batches. The ordinance now states that the City will re-revist properties on the list within 48 hours of the demo date.
(LINE 38) Dr. Blakely was part of a panel today, he expressed his concern over this issue and support of re-inspections.
Written Confirmation for Appeals : The ordinance outlines a time-binding response date from the City of 15 days for people who have submitted their photos of their clean and secure property in which they will be issued a formal written response as to whether their house has been removed from the list.
Criteria for Imminent Threat – We wanted to have them list a criteria but what we got was actually through the criteria for removal. What we got was a guideline on the backend. Which is to clean, cut, secure.
This portion on the ordinance should help addresss inconsistencies for many homeowners regarding what you must provide to get your home off the Imminent Threat List.
(b) All notices provided under this section, except the posting
on the City of New Orleans website and the Times Picayune, alos include the information:
(1) The municipal address of the property
(2) The specific reasons for the said violations as follows:
(a) Inside of home gutted and contents removed;
(b) Grass cut in front, back and side yards;
(c) All doors shut and secured
(d) All windows shut and secured.
(3) Information shall be provided to property owners detailing what action he/she must take to comply with the ordinance and thus cause the removal of the subject property from demolition. Additionally the notices hall advise property owners that the City of New Orleans makes no legal representationth at relief will or will not be granted.
Due to this language, it is wise for some people to consider getting an engineer’s report if you want to give the City an authoritative document which attests that your property is structurally sound. While it is not in the ordinance, it would not hurt to have such a document. The cost of this is usually about $300-$400 dollars.
Merging all City Dabases – We wish that that City could coordinate all their property condition information databases into one, comprehensive database.
This should perhaps be addressed in some ordinance governing the City’s MIS department regarding the quality City of New Orleans website as a whole in order to improve the functionality of Code Enforcement and Public Access to Information. It was not something we could realistically add to this instrument today. These databases may not be technically merge friendly. It would have been meaningless to include it in this ordinance today.
Of course we couldn’t just do this in one day. There is more to do.
HCDRC REFORM: Stacy Head is aware of the procedural issues at the Historic Conservation District Review Committee. If you house is on the Imminent Threat to Health and Safety Demo List, and falls within the HCDRC review district, you should have this extra layer of review. The HCDRC is ill-prepared to deal with the great volume of demolitions coming before them Post-Katrina.
Reform of this commitee would help tighten things up regarding review/notice of properties on the Imminent Threat List. The properties on this list are to go through that process now. I have seen some of them coming through there but I think it has been hit or miss. Some come through and have already been demolished. This Committee is run out of Safey and Permits, it is a disaster of its own. Fixing it would be a great accomplishment.
FOLLOW UP ON THE NEW PROCEDURES IN PLACE. We at SH will continue to see how this really affects people on the ground by following up in our work on the site.
We can begin constructing more specific revisions to the ordinance with the help of other agencies. We will have to see if Winston is up to the task now formally in his lap.
Utlimately, the ordinance provides more clear and consistent guidelines for homeowners to get their homes off the list with the revisions passed today.
We need to be sure the City implements them.