The July 7 general membership meeting had a main agenda to address housing issues. Virginia Blanque, VP of MCNO effectively facilitated the meeting. The valuable content and contact information as provided by the several speakers is herein summarized for the benefit of people who were unable to attend. (The equally important topics of the security district work midcitysecuritydistrict.org by Angela Brenneke and reports of armed robberies are not covered as this summary is only on housing.)
Speakers and Topics
Jennifer Farwell MCNO Housing Chair: The MCNO housing survey–Progress and call for volunteer surveyors
Carla Gendusaoffice of Stacy Head: New measures to return abandoned/blighted property to commerce by fining property owners
Margaret Doyle-Johntson –Office of Arnie Fielkow email@example.com: The resource of at-large council as a route for enforcements of code and housing laws
Darren Martin — HANO Community Relations firstname.lastname@example.org: The “Housing Choice Voucher Program” rights, rules and responsibilities of tenants, owners, HANO, and neighbors.
Miles Trapolin: New approaches to force landlords to shut down rental properties that house criminals
The MCNO housing survey is a comprehensive evaluation and photographic record of all 3700 residential properties in our boundaries. It is creating a database that will eventually monitor and track progress and problem resolution for a variety of quality of life issues. Its first “task” is to help us identify blighted and/or abandoned housing that is adversely impacting resident’s quality of life. For this project, having all the properties documented helps put the blighted properties into context so that we can determine patterns of both blight and recovery and target heavily the recovering blocks where people working to rebuild. The MCNO housing program is connected to the efforts of the City Council on code enforcement sweeps, the New Orleans Recovery Authority (NORA) and real estate development and marketing of properties. We believe that we (MCNO) offer a path to collectively access city resources and prioritize code enforcement efforts, to collaborate with NORA in marketing property they now own and to encourage home buyers to move into Mid City. The MCNO housing survey sets criteria for volunteers to record the condition of houses in Mid City. Coordinated follow up activities to contact owners and apply code laws will follow from an accurate neighborhood-wide database. WE NEED MORE SURVEYORS. We also need better sources of owner addresses as some tax records are not reliable. Contact info is email@example.com.
Ms. Margaret Doyle-Johnston spoke on behalf of Councilperson Arnie Fielkow on the importance of using the office of Council at Large to support our housing recovery efforts. The city employees and elected officials are all accessible by their Internet connected BlackBerries and that is the best way to get a response. Follow-up and action are enhanced by contacting the appropriate District Council Person and the Councilperson at Large. Every person at the meeting was given Ms. Doyle-Johnston’s business card.
Carla Gendusa from Councilperson Stacy Head’s Office spoke about the recently passed ordinance which created a legal process to “return abandoned housing to commerce”. The approach is for a citizen or MCNO to report houses that are abandoned, the code enforcement office will contact the owner and schedule a hearing. The hearing will result in either 1) a resolution of the code violation within 30 days or fines up to $500 per day, 2) assessment of the fines on the property tax bills, and 3) eventual liens on property and judgments that can lead to Civil Court auctions of property.
The speaker from HANO seemed to draw the highest level of response from our members in attendance. Several persons commented on rental houses that they believe are a problem and they suspect that the renting of the houses is through the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Darren Martin effectively described the “partnership” nature of the Section 8 housing program. The agreements between the tenant, landlord, and HANO are designed to 1) “train” tenant applicants on what the community expects from residents living in their neighborhood, 2) set lease agreements that prohibit sub renting or voucher use while residing in another place, 3) require property owners to provide rental units that meet minimum defined standards for human habitation, and 4) provide a path to remove tenants/landlords from the program who violate the agreements. Much more information should be read at hano.org or hud.gov for people who believe that problem houses in their neighborhood should be reported. Since the addresses of all property under the HANO Voucher program are confidential, the best approach is to report ALL problemscalls to police for suspected tenant criminal activity, code violations/blight conditions, and suspected violation of lease agreements to HANO, just in the event that these properties are Section 8 rental units. Mr. Martin agreed that he would acknowledge the emails and his intended follow up if the reported addresses were under the voucher program. firstname.lastname@example.org
Miles Trapolin reported on his extensive work with the City Council that has led to a means to remove rental property from the neighborhood if neighbors can demonstrate a history of criminal activity at an address. A group of 7 neighbors can now file a civil suit against an owner who has a history of renting to persons engaged in drug or other felony crimes. The key to success is that neighbors get documentable evidence of reports of criminal activity on or immediately near to an addresspolice reports, arrest records, complaints. The group of 7 neighbors who feel that the property is adversely affecting their property can file a suit and the owner can suffer the consequence of a penalty that includes removal of the property from rental use for six months and a day to longer. The six month penalty will end the non conforming use on many problem properties presented rented as 4 plexes or even 8 plexes in areas where two family zoning applies. Ms. Trapolin provided copies of the types of letters that she has sent in documenting property with a history of criminal activity.
In conclusion, this summary is very much abbreviated and is best used as a guide to sources of more detailed information. In one sentence, we the residents must exercise our power to keep problem housing out of our neighborhood by hitting at the wallet those property owners who have either abandoned this neighborhood or are using their substandard properties as income sources and harboring illegal activities. We have the power to stop their violations of laws and rules and improve our quality of life.
[Thanks to MCNO Board Member Ben Claassen for compiling these notes.]