A new “lot maintenance program” passed by New Orleans City Council will allow the city to cut grass on blighted private property, recording the cost on that property owner’s tax bill.
The program, created as part of an amendment to an existing ordinance, allows the city to cut overgrowth, remove debris and perform routine maintenance on a private lot if the grass or growth is over 18 inches, there is trash or debris and/or if there is “noxious” growth, such as poison ivy, according to a presentation given by city administration in a Housing and Human Needs committee last month.
“We have all seen these lots that look like jungles, we all know how much they hurt the redevelopment of our communities,” Councilwoman Stacy Head said at the committee meeting. “Bottom line, we need to get the grass cut and we need to make it happen faster. This ordinance is designed to do just that.”
The plan was presented during the committee meeting on Feb. 17, and voted upon in City Council on Feb. 20.
The measure is one of several council members have taken with city administration recently in an effort to fight blight. Others include the city’s commitment to invest $450,000 in blight strategy, the development of a lien waiver policy and a strategy for disposition of properties placed in city control because of failure to pay property taxes, according to City Councilwoman Stacy Head.
The action comes after an outcry from New Orleans community members this year concerning blight. On Sep. 18, City Council held a special meeting that focused only on blight, during which members of the public commented for hours about the various blight problems they saw in their neighborhoods.
Although the city has since 2010 reduced blight by 10,000 properties, it continues to be a public safety concern, according to city council members and city administration. In 2013, for instance, there were over 5,000 calls to 311 about high grass.
New Orleans will now join Jefferson Parish, as well as cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia, in allowing ordinances which fast track blight reduction.
During the committee meeting, Head argued that city officials could before mow down grass on blighted property — but that the city just wouldn’t be reimbursed for it.
“I think this is the best way to go,” Head said, speaking to city officials about the amended ordinance. “Making sure we have a well-drafted, absolutely air-tight, water-tight ordinance…I think this proactive approach to make sure that not only we can do it, but we also get to get our money back, is the best approach, and I thank you for this.”
The new lot maintenance program may be implemented as soon as May, according to city officials. At that point, complaints made about overgrown grass on blighted property will be inspected, and the owner will be sent a notice. If the owner doesn’t comply by cleaning the property and cutting grass within seven days, the city will cut it and record costs on the owner’s tax bill.
“We’re redoubling of city’s efforts to fight blight,” said City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell. “We’re adding another tool in our toolbox to fight blight.”