Land Use

Auditor critical of demo plan

By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer

The state agency tasked with the maintenance of Road Home properties will be unable to meet its own deadline to end the program next year, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor.

The Louisiana Land Trust is a non-profit agency operating as a holding company for all Road Home properties sold to the state after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Of the over 10,400 properties acquired by the state, more than 6,400 are awaiting a decision by the local entities tasked with overseeing the transfer of these properties.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera issued a report last week critical of the Land Trust.

The program set a goal of completing all demolitions by March 31 and ending the program by May 31.

Agency Executive Director Mike Taylor said the program, which involves properties in 21 parishes, is 99 percent done outside of Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. He now hopes to finish by this time next year.

Taylor generally agreed with the audit, saying he has been concerned about this for sometime.

The Land Trust has held these properties until the individual parishes make a final determination on who will take final control and responsibility.

The report says the projections are based on “faulty assumptions” beyond the control of the Land Trust.

One of the efforts criticized in the report is the Home Demolition Program in Orleans Parish. The receiving entity for Road Home properties is the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which, according to the audit, has made no decision on approximately 1,700 properties.

Of the more than 1,700 properties, 300 are eligible for immediate demolition while another 300 are awaiting final approval from the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee.  Taylor said the committee is ramping up the review process and more than 100 properties will he heard at the January meeting.  Another 750 properties will be renovated, and 350 are not eligible for demolition for various reasons including pending sale or lack of environmental review.

Another problem has been the ongoing crisis at the Mortgage and Conveyance Office. Taylor said that 300 to 400 properties were held up because a computer crash that left some records hard to find, limiting most property transfers in the city. At a recent meeting of the Louisiana Land Trust, the board decided to move forward on the closings and assume the risk.

The other program lagging is the Lot Next Door, a program designed to sell adjacent properties to a willing neighbor.

Joyce Wilkerson, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, attributes the hold up to multiple factors, from elevation requirements to locating interested neighbors.

Wilkerson cautioned against auctioning off the properties fearing that by flooding the market with parcels, NORA would depress property values for the homeowners who rebuilt. She also expressed doubt that the Land Trust would be able to finish by the end of next year.

Taylor said his agency has been concerned about the speed of the programs and went on to say that “we have spent the last couple of months re-working timelines” and that they hoped to finish with the demolitions mid-2011 and close up shop in December of 2011.

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