Terrebonne council ponders options to fight local blight

High school land acquisition to move athletic fields
September 9, 2014
Our View: 13 years later, we remember 9/11
September 9, 2014

The number of blighted and abandoned properties in Terrebonne Parish is decreasing, but Councilman Danny Babin would like to see the problem eliminated.

Approximately 80 local properties have been identified as blighted; a few years ago that number was closer to 250. But current law allows property owners 36 months to correct the problem, preventing the parish from condemning private property.

“We have too many pieces of property in this community waiting for someone to buy it and make money off of it,” Babin said. “If the state would change the timeline to 18 months, it would help. We would still have 18 months of problems with people not cutting their grass and boarding up.

“I believe in business and people making money, but not at the expense of someone else.”

Councilwoman Arlanda Williams argues blighted properties invite criminal activity in otherwise stable neighborhoods.

“Most of the people that are involved with drugs will go to these abandoned sites where no one can see them do their transactions, smoke or do whatever they plan to do with their drugs,” said Williams, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice. “I have always been a believer in the broken window theory. One broken window leads to another and another, then you have a community that is eventually destroyed.”

The metaphor is based in reality, as many of the houses on the blighted properties have shattered windows, granting easy access for criminal activity.

Williams said abandoned properties are prime for drug and prostitution trade.

“Most of the people who are on drugs probably can’t even afford to go get a hotel room. It gives them a way to do whatever they want,” she said. “It is just not fair to the communities. Some of these neighbors have lived their all of their lives and worked hard to maintain their homes and expect to stay there.”

The District 2 councilwoman is circulating a “no loitering” agreement demanding that those in the area without cause be subject to arrest.

In addition to being rife with criminal activity, Babin reasons blighted properties pose a health hazard.

Unmowed yards attract vermin and pests – oppossums, snakes and rats, according to the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.

“We cannot allow people to keep beating the system for three, five or seven years,” Babin said. “It draws down the neighborhood.

“No matter whether you have a $1,000 house or a $10 million house, that is your home. We have to remember as government officials that the guy with the $1,000 house is equally important as the guy with the $10 million house.”

Williams and the non-profit organization Options for Independence are working to restore homes in northern Terrebonne rather than condemn them.

“I am not a person who just wants to automatically condemn the property,” she said. “I will work with people.”

If the property owner is not compliant, however, “then, yes, condemn it,” Williams agreed.

Options for Independence works with seven parishes – Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, Assumption, St. John, St. James and St. Charles – renovating or building homes to improve local property values. The organization receives federal, state and local funding.

“They rebuild and make these homes gorgeous,” Williams said. Home prices range from $160,000 to $180,000.

“We need to make sure we are taking care of these older neighborhoods,” the councilwoman said. “We cannot allow people to just sit back and say it is their property, we can’t touch it. Now, the lady next door has to dodge a bullet or is afraid to come sit outside because she does not know is someone is addicted to drugs or if a prostitute is going to meet her at her door. That is not fair for the person who worked all of their life.”

Blighted property not only invited criminal activity, but it also brings down property values for neighbors of the area. The Terrebonne Parish Council is currently pondering ways to fight local blight and clean up our streets.