Neighbors angered over blight

Colonels’ Allen sitting among SLC’s elite
November 17, 2010
Izola Hammel
November 19, 2010
Colonels’ Allen sitting among SLC’s elite
November 17, 2010
Izola Hammel
November 19, 2010

Residents in the Tri-parish area are getting frustrated living next to rundown houses and some intend to do something about it.

Levron Street resident Jim Small told the Terrebonne Parish Council last Wednesday he was tired of looking at homes on his Houma street that are owned by absentee landlords and have been neglected to the point that they are in disrepair and attract criminal activity.

“It’s everywhere,” Small said following the meeting as he described the extent of the problem.

Small has lived in his home for 20 years. During that time he has seen his neighborhood change to the point that for every two houses that are maintained there remains one that is in ruins.

“There is a house across the street from me that has been empty and has no electricity. It should be torn down,” Small said.

Part of the problem, according to some area residents, is properties that were abandoned after hurricanes pounded the region in 2005 and again in 2008.

Small contends a more common issue often stems from cases of older persons having died and their children taking ownership of houses although they might live in other cities or states.

Small maintains those relatives and other real estate owners will become absentee landlords and will often offer low rents to people of low character just to keep houses from being condemned.

In some cases structures are just left abandoned, he said. Repairs are not made and those locations become havens for trouble.

Small noted one house n 300 Levron St. n is a frequent source of irritation to neighbors. Houma Police confirmed the claim.

Shooting heard emanating from the house is an almost nightly occurrence, Small argues, and large crowds often gather at the residence.

“We’ve had shootings. I’ve had my front porch paint balled. I’ve had my windows shot at,” Small told the parish council. “Nothing but outlaws live in this place. I need someone to do something about this.”

“At some point, we’re going to have our streets back. If [police] can’t do it and you folks can’t do it, we’re going to do it n the people that live on those streets,” Small said.

Small, like others have done in the past, expressed frustration at having a problem so close to his home. Levron Street residents have sought action from police and local government with little satisfaction.

Council Chairwoman Arlanda Williams confirmed knowing about the trouble in Small’s neighborhood. “People live in this house,” she said of the 300 Levron St. location. “The windows are out of that house and people are still living there. We have the owner, which is a former doctor here, living out of state.”

“There should be some type of move that we can put on about these slumlords that allow these places to look like they look, to rent them for $200 a month and let anybody into these houses. There should be some type of rule that we can come back on slumlords for the laying of disorderly conduct on private property,” Williams said.

Williams and Small both stated separately that the house in question was a scene two weeks removed from which rounds of gunfire were heard sending neighbors scattering for safe cover. The problem, they agreed, is not isolated to that one location.

Williams said that police and sheriff’s deputies are doing all they can, but there needs to be controls regarding the owners of these problem properties.

“The neighbors of Levron Street are not afraid to speak out. We’re going to continue to work on these complaints,” Williams said.

Synde Devillier is president of the Bayou Board of Realtors. She said the problem of blighted property n both commercial and residential n is not new. Existing property owners need a standard, and the parish must make sure all residents comply, she said.

Devillier said it is difficult for people in her profession to sell a home or business space n no matter how nice it is n if adjoining property is unsightly or unsafe.

“When you buy a house you’re buying the neighborhood,” she said. “If you have one owner who says, ‘it’s not my problem,’ then you have a problem.” A problem, she stressed, that goes beyond decreased property values.

Devillier confirmed that property owners wanting to deal with blight could go to the parish government. “Yeah, you could try that,” she said, but warned that there is only so much that government offices can currently do to address the situation other than issue fines and adjudicate owners who have already shown that they do not care.

Following the council meeting, Williams said she is prepared to lead the way to make sure property owners are held accountable for real estate appearance and usage. Enforcement is key, according to Williams who wants legislation passed that would set a higher standard for the area.

“We need to strengthen our rules with planning,” Williams said. She said part of the problem in the past was that procedure had been to condemn and clear land, allowing owners to slide out of their responsibility.

“I’ve always been an advocate of dealing with slumlords and blight,” Williams said, stressing that with new rules needs to come tougher enforcement. “We need to do something to stabilize these areas to be more sustainable,” she said.

“[When it is a vacant property] neighbors can get together and take turns mowing the lawn and things to keep it at least presentable,” Devillier said.

“[What we need] are investors to come in and take care of a lot of these properties, but no investor is going to pay market value for them,” she said. “Other than that it’s up to the neighbors.”

Small said he and other residents have been making regular appearances on their street, including trying to hold traditional block parties for the more upstanding members of this neighborhood. The responses they have gotten so far have included complaints from the troublemakers about their being out there.

This house at 300 Levron St. was identified by area residents and Houma Police as a center of alleged illegal activity, prompting members of the Terrebonne Parish Council to take a hard look at blight in the city. MIKE NIXON