The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority still holds many properties that owners ceded to government control through the Road Home program after Hurricane Katrina. Many of those were sold to neighbors who lived next door. Others were auctioned.
But some Road Home residential lots have been taken over by the business next door. A change in property use, from a residence to a business, is supposed to come with an official zoning process.
Karen Gadbois, co-founder and reporter at The Lens, says that process has not been consistent. She looked into a little known program called “Near Miss” which sells Road Home lots to businesses or churches.
Gadbois explains that she first noticed the story in her part of town, when a lot that used to have a house on it was bought by a business. That was a few years ago. Since then, Gadbois has found 59 properties that have been bought by their business neighbors, without being re-permitted for commercial use. (The exception being the New Orleans Country Club.)
Gadbois writes that many city officials had no idea commercially licensed neighbors were allowed to buy Road Home residential lots. From her story:
"Even now, the Near Miss program is mentioned nowhere on the Redevelopment Authority website. A city news release outlining the recent expansion of the Lot Next Door Program doesn’t note that commercial property owners have been able to buy these properties for a few years."
She points out that some of the lots would would have earned property tax as residences. Now, they're church parking lots, providing no revenue to the city. Plus, a business or church does not always have the capacity to develop or even maintain the lot in a timely manner. Again, from Gadbois's piece:
"The upshot: Many Near Miss properties are being used in ways that do not conform to the city zoning maps. Or they’re left vacant and overgrown, contributing to the blight that plagues some neighborhoods. Or both."
This news content made possible with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.