Louisiana Housing Corporation Roundtable Shines Light on Complex Issue of Blight

December 5, 2019

Neighborhood blight and the presence of vacant and abandoned properties affect all types of communities in every corner of the state — and the Louisiana Housing Corporation wants to change that.

In an effort to kick-start an important conversation about this complex issue, LHC held a Blight Remediation and Abatement Roundtable about the challenges of addressing abandoned and deteriorated homes and buildings.

The event brought together community leaders from all sectors for a discussion of how blight affects quality of life for Louisiana residents. These experts and community stakeholders analyzed blight-related ordinances and laws, discussed blight challenges in rural communities versus urban communities, and identified solutions and strategies to address this issue, which affects every corner of the state.

LHC Executive Director Keith Cunningham says blight is a complex issue that represents the long-lasting effects of poverty and natural disasters — and one that affects rural as well as urban communities.

“The fact that we as a state have not developed a solution is an indication of how difficult this problem is,” Cunningham says. “The Blight Roundtable is our attempt to better understand the issue of blight — including its origins and possible solutions — so we can be a resource to the community and help our cities, parishes and communities better address it.”

No Single Solution

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to blight, Cunningham says bringing people together who have a vested interest in the issue serves as a building block to tackle the problem in innovative and lasting ways.

“We don't have all the answers,” Cunningham told the roundtable attendees. “We don't have the presence in the communities like you have. However, we all recognize how it's impacting our communities, both urban and rural. To this point we have never worked together toward a solution, incorporating the advocates, the developers, the resources, the municipalities, the assessors — everyone who has a responsibility and a role in investing confidently in the state of Louisiana.”

Defining the Problem

After introductions by Cunningham and LHC Board Chairman Lloyd “Buddy” Spillers, the roundtable kicked off with a “State of Blight in Louisiana” panel with Cunningham, LHC attorney Plezetta West and former Southern University Law Center professor Winston Riddick.

West says it’s important for municipalities to accurately define blight — as well as what the terms “uninhabited” and “hazardous” mean in this context — in a way that is not open to interpretation. “We don't want something that says ‘ugly’ because we don't want someone to go into a community and try to take government action on a property simply because they deem it to be ugly,” she says.

West also gave an overview of a study commissioned by the Mississippi Home Corporation that found four main indicators that determine the potential for blight in a community. The first indicator is vacancy rates, specifically unoccupied single-family homes. Blight also generally rises with a drop of median housing value, an increase in single-family housing density or a drop of homeownership rates per square mile. Other geographical indicators for blight, West says, include housing units with incomplete kitchens or plumbing, a prevalence of older properties, poverty and low rents.

The roundtable featured three additional panels, including one on the legal implications and requirements related to blight. Southern University Law Center professor Yolanda Martin, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Executive Director Laura Tuggle and Stephen Sklamba, senior underwriting counsel for First American Title, all provided key insights into the laws and regulations that underpin the blight issue.

Next, a panel of experts discussed the myriad challenges that rural and urban communities face when dealing with blight. The discussion featured Bogalusa Rebirth Executive Director Wendy Williams, Washington Parish Assessor James “Jimbo” Stevenson and Baton Rouge city attorneys Maimuna McGee and William Aaron.

The event closed with a discussion on potential solutions to address blight, a discussion led by New Orleans Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brenda Breaux.

Cunningham says the roundtable was an important first step because “it's no longer enough just to complain” about blight. “We have to be involved in the solution,” he says. “We believe communities sharing information about their best practices and challenges related to blight is a valuable first step toward a lasting solution.”

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