City needs to take blight seriously

Published 6:34 am Friday, July 22, 2016

I don’t envy city leaders in Bogalusa.

On the one hand, the current administration and the city council have done a great job in setting right the city’s financial footing. On the other hand, the city is still in obvious need of some big, costly fixes. Roads are one of those fixes and leaking sewer and water pipes are another big fix. But, arguably, one of the biggest fixes are the homes in Bogalusa.

In virtually every neighborhood in the city, there is at least one home in bad disrepair. Sometimes these homes are abandoned and sometimes they’re not, but the result is the same: The city is pockmarked with homes that are dangerous eyesores.

The city council was right to allow CivicSource, a outside company, to auction off property that has been adjudicated or fallen into the city’s possession due to lack of payment on property taxes. To date, a handful of properties have been sold this year, and I am hopeful some of the commercial properties on Columbia Street will soon fund buyers. In addition, the city council has made it legal for homeowners who care for adjoining abandoned, empty lots to one day acquire those lots for very little money. This, too, is a good idea.

However, this isn’t a solution suitable for every ugly, dangerous home because some of those homes, even empty homes that have been condemned, have legal owners who are paying taxes on the property, if not keeping up on the repairs. As it stands, the city now can only write letters threatening legal action that could be months away in response to yards choked with chest-high grass, broken windows and myriad other public dangers.

At a recent town hall meeting, citizens and two council members seemed to embrace the idea of passing an ordinance that would allow the city to clean up these properties and bill the owners via their property tax bill. This could work, although the public works director pointed out that there aren’t enough city workers to clean up all the properties around the city that need it.

Still, even this problem isn’t insurmountable, as presumably the city could contract out such jobs to existing lawn care and repair professionals. Of course, the city would need to stockpile some savings to pay for these cleanups and it’s impossible to know whether the owners of these properties would pay their property taxes after having been billed for cleanups. But I think the alternative — hoping negligent property owners will do the right thing — is clearly not working.

Finally, in some extreme cases, the city should be willing to condemn and tear down homes it deems too dangerous. Law-abiding neighbors who care for their homes have a right not to be situated next to a home that is empty, not secured from pests and trespassers and, potentially, a fire hazard. In addition to being a health and safety hazard, blighted properties depress home values, which can, over years, reduce property taxes for the city and increase the outflow of residents.

It’s true that teardowns are not cheap and some of the older homes are filled with dangerous material. The state is rightly concerned with asbestos and lead paint, and tearing down houses contaminated with these materials could be quite expensive, but so are street and sewer repairs. The good news is that the federal government offers Community Development Block Grants specifically for neighborhood stabilization programs aimed at reducing blight.

While there’s no guarantee Bogalusa would get any of this money, it seems like the least we could do would be apply for it. Once again, the alternative — doing nothing — is clearly not working.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can email him at, or call him at (985) 732-2565, ext. 301.