Disappointment after Lower 9th Ward lot amendment fails

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NEW ORLEANS -- Disappointment for residents living in the Lower Ninth Ward after Louisiana voters rejected an amendment that would have allowed the city to sell empty lots for $100 each.

"The one that sat here was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina and further damaged during Hurricane Isaac," said community activist Vanessa Gueringer pointing to a blighted property on Tupelo Street.

Blight and empty lots are battles Gueringer knows well. The Lower Ninth Ward is still struggling to bounce back from Katrina.

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Gueringer hoped a proposed amendment during the recent mid-term election would answer her community's prayers. However, that didn't happen.

"I am very disheartened that this amendment did not pass. It had the unanimous support of this community as well as New Orleans East and the Upper Ninth Ward," said Gueringer.

The constitutional change would have given the city of New Orleans the greenlight to sell about 602 abandoned Lower 9th Ward lots for a little as $100 each. The catch -- right now they are owned by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, and only certain buyers would qualify.

While many residents in the Lower Ninth Ward hoped the amendment would pass, about 40 percent of voters across the state said yes. The law, which failed, was introduced by state Rep. Wesley Bishop to try and jump start redevelopment in the Lower Ninth.

"We recognize that there is a need to take some action with respect to the Lower 9th Ward because the redevelopment has lagged," said Janet Howard with the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR).

Howard said the proposed amendment raised red flags over property ownership and the power of the Louisiana Legislature.

"The companion legislation ordered the city to sell property it doesn't even own. The property is owned by NORA, which means the city would have to acquire it. There's a real problem with the legislature telling a local jurisdiction that it has to go out and buy property," Howard said.

A BGR report also showed the $100 price tag would not cover the city's transaction fees. Another concern fielded by Councilman James Gray was that constituents worried about property values dropping.

"Obviously if I have a lot worth $6,000 to $7,000 and suddenly the lot on either side of me is sold for $100, it impacts the value of my property. As city councilman my problem is you have to be doing something with your $6,000 lot," said Gray, who supported the amendment.

However, Gray said it is time to move on. His office confirms a new CVS Pharmacy is in the pipeline and possibly a new NORA development.

"We're talking to NORA about the possibility of assembling property right around that [Martin Luther King Jr.] school that's being built that's going to be ready to go on-line in September of 2015," he said.

Residents say it is time to do much more nearly a decade after Hurricane Katrina

"We're hoping our council will step up a little bit more than they have been, that the mayor will recognize there's been some unfairness here and make this right by the residents here in the Lower Nine," said Gueringer.

Bishop tells Eyewitness News he plans on working on similar legislation to help spur redevelopment in the Lower Ninth Ward. He hopes to introduce it during the next legislative session.