In The News › Vacant, ruined properties put N.O. at top of heap

Aug 21, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Blight, Orleans Parish

Vacant, ruined properties put N.O. at top of heap

Vacant, ruined properties put N.O. at top of heap
Posted by ccharpen August 21, 2008 21:54PM

New Orleans has a far greater proportion of vacant homes than any other city in the country, due in large part to a lagging recovery in about a third of the neighborhoods that were badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, new analyses show.

The nonprofit Greater New Orleans Community Data Center released two reports Thursday, one of which used U.S. Postal Service data compiled in March to compare New Orleans with seven other American cities that have large inventories of blighted or vacant housing.

When it comes to abandoned homes, New Orleans is in a class by itself, the report indicated, with more than one in three residential addresses vacant or unoccupied. No other city surveyed had as many as one in five.

Detroit, which has lost roughly 1 million people in the past half-century and has become synonymous with urban decay, was No. 2 on the list. The survey found that 18 percent of Detroit’s residential addresses are vacant or unoccupied.

For each city, the inventory of unoccupied homes is divided into two categories: vacant and “no stat, “ a Postal Service term meaning that an address is unlikely to receive mail for a long time.

According to Allison Plyer, deputy director of the data center, the Postal Service considers a property “vacant” if it is habitable but unoccupied. “No stat” properties — a category that covers more than 90 percent of New Orleans’ inventory of unoccupied addresses — includes properties that have been demolished and those that are heavily blighted or boarded up as well as those where new construction is under way.

Plyer said data indicate that 2,000 to 3,000 new units could be under construction in the city. But even when those are completed, it would have little effect on the overall figure of 71,657 unoccupied units.

“It’s not really a surprise, but it’s nice to have it quantified, “ said Janet Howard, president of the nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research, which has issued several reports on blight. “It gives you a sense of the enormity of the problem. The question is what we’re going to do to address it.”

Howard said the vastness of the city’s portfolio of abandoned and vacant properties underscores the need to make it easier for would-be buyers to acquire them.

“The strategy for blight remediation has been too much command-and-control, and not enough of getting the property out to whatever market exists, “ she said.

“It is important to remember that New Orleans suffered devastation unlike any American city has experienced, “ recovery director Ed Blakely said. He said the city “has demolished more than 10,000 houses since Hurricane Katrina” and that “significant effort and resources” are being dedicated to addressing the problem.

The data center’s second analysis, also based in part on postal data, offers some clues about where New Orleans’ blight has festered.

That report found that of 50 neighborhoods that flooded after the levees breached, 16 have fewer than half as many households now as they did two months before the 2005 storm.

Some of the neighborhoods with the biggest declines are no surprise. Atop the list is the devastated Lower 9th Ward, which has just 11 percent of its pre-Katrina households, according to the survey.

The analysis found a correlation between pre-storm income levels and post-storm recovery. The slowest-recovering areas have tended to be the poorest. Along with the Lower 9th, the Florida and Desire communities have been among the slowest to regain population.

But income is not the only determinant of a neighborhood’s future. The survey found that some middle-income neighborhoods — including Lakeview, the West End and Pontchartrain Park — have failed to recover 50 percent of their pre-Katrina households.

More hopefully, the analysis found that several neighborhoods that suffered heavy flooding have come back fairly strongly. Broadmoor, Mid-City, Treme and Lakewood all had more than 70 percent as many households March 31 as they did in mid-2005.

The survey relies on a database of households receiving mail that is maintained by Valassis, a marketing firm that “owns the most comprehensive mailing list in the country, “ Plyer said.

Plyer’s data closely track a similar set of numbers compiled by analyst Greg Rigamer, who with Plyer helped the city prepare a formal challenge to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent estimate of New Orleans’ population.

Rigamer attempted to estimate populations in each area rather than the number of households. But both he and Plyer came up with the same estimate for the Lower 9th Ward: that 11 percent of its pre-Katrina residents had returned.

Rigamer’s data are based on several factors, including utility bills, U.S. Postal Service data, census figures, Sewerage & Water Board bills, garbage-cart registration and field observations.

The Census Bureau in March placed the city’s population in July 2007 at 239,000. Based on data from Plyer and Rigamer, Mayor Ray Nagin last month filed a challenge to that, saying the population could have been as high as 321,000.

But Plyer told the City Council on Thursday that the population rebound has slowed dramatically, with the number of residents growing just 3 percent in the past year.

Staff writer Bruce Eggler contributed to this report.Gordon Russell can be reached at or 504.826.3347.

Aug 21, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Blight, Orleans Parish

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