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City Council sets deadline to begin work on homes
By Bruce Eggler Staff writer

Concerned that thousands of residents are doing nothing to fix up their flooded homes, the City Council voted Thursday to set Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina’s first anniversary, as the deadline for people to clean, gut and board up their homes, or risk having the city seize and demolish them.

The ordinance was introduced by Councilman Jay Batt, who said ravaged, mold-infested houses, especially if not boarded up, can become “environmental biohazards” that will slow the recovery of whole neighborhoods by discouraging nearby owners from moving back or repairing their own homes.

The ordinance, approved 7-0, says “every owner of a dwelling or dwelling unit shall be responsible for mold remediation, cleaning, gutting and properly securing the premises of all properties” damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita “in a manner so as to render the premises environmentally sound and not open to the public.”

The owner “shall take appropriate measures to complete this work as soon as possible, but no later than Aug. 29, 2006,” the measure says.

If an owner does not take action, the building will be declared a public nuisance “and shall be abated by repair, rehabilitation, demolition or removal,” the ordinance says.

“It’s not fair to others to let these houses languish,” Batt said. “No neighborhood is going to be worth a doggone” with hurricane-blighted houses in the middle of it.

It’s also important for owners to gut, remediate and board up their homes as soon as possible to protect the property’s value, he said.

To help homeowners who need financial assistance to remediate their property, Batt said, a Web site will be set up listing nonprofit organizations that can work with them.

Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt said many homeowners want to return to New Orleans but have yet to receive insurance settlements or other needed aid. At her suggestion, Batt’s ordinance was amended to provide a process for reviewing hardship cases.

Chief Deputy City Attorney Evelyn Pugh said that when a notice is sent out advising an owner that his property is being considered for designation as a public nuisance, information on the review process will be included.

Batt’s proposal was supported by Kenneth Cowie, president of the Venetian Isles Civic and Improvement Association, but was denounced by activist Babatunji Ahmed, a regular at council meetings.

Saying the measure was directed primarily against black residents, Ahmed said it reminded him of the way former Confederate leaders seized power again in Southern states at the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War. “The rebels are rearming,” he warned.

Batt said the measure would apply equally in black and white neighborhoods, whether in Lakeview, Gentilly or the 9th Ward.

Mayor Ray Nagin did not respond immediately to an e-mail asking whether he will sign or veto the ordinance. If Nagin does veto the ordinance, the council likely would have the five votes needed to overturn it, since the measure was approved unanimously.

(Bruce Eggler can be reached at or (504) 826-3320.)