Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
ST. BERNARD, La. - As soon as Brian Liggio heard about a lot for sale in his neighborhood, he called his father, who has yet to move back to St. Bernard after Hurricane Katrina, to spread the word. The lot is one of roughly 400 properties that went on sale August 1 through the St. Bernard Housing Opportunity Program.
"I would love to see old neighbors come back, the older residents that know what St. Bernard is all about to come back to it," said Liggio.
After months of heated discussion, the lots are the first of nearly 2,000 in the program to go up for grabs. They're Road Home properties held by the Louisiana Land Trust.
"I think its very important to move the properties into commerce. It does a number of things. It gets the properties back in the tax rolls," said Mike Taylor, executive director of the Louisiana Land Trust.
Selling the properties quickly is especially important because the Louisiana Land Trust is running out of money to maintain them, and the parish says, they don't have enough funds to do so indefinitely. The LLT recently signed a new contract to maintain the properties, at a cost of more than $700 per property each year. The one year contract can be expanded to up to three years.
Responsibility for maintenance was scheduled to be transferred to St. Bernard Parish government in June, but the LLT plans to continue maintaining the lots this year unless the parish expresses a desire to do so.
Taylor said the LLT is no longer paying for maintenance out of its general budget through the use of community block grants. Instead, it's using money from program income, including the sale of Road Home properties. Taylor said $3 million is already in the bank from the Lot Next Door program.
Taylor said the parish and the LLT decided to allow people to buy the properties at fair market value, instead of put them up for auction, because there were concerns an auction would bring down property values. A limited number of properties were put on the market because authorities didn't want to flood down the market, which could have also brought down property values.
"We're working hard toward, this is our first sale of a large amount of properties at one time," said Guy McInnis, St. Bernard Parish council.
The program differs from Lot Next Door because anyone can buy the properties and build on them, within parish zoning laws. But some neighbors are skeptical the lots will sell.
"I don't think the money's there to buy them now, and I don't see why you would build more houses now in a parish that you still have 150 of them for sale," said Victor Lucia, who recently moved back to St. Bernard.
Still, Liggio remains hopeful the program will be a positive for his neighborhood.
"I hope it encourages the people that did move away," said Liggio. "I really don't want it to be put out to you know here's these developers that come in and come build this house and that house and sell it for a ridiculous price."
The properties are on the market until August 21st. Anyone interested can put in a non-refundable $350 dollar deposit to buy the house at appraised market value. If more than one person is interested, they will bid on the property at a live, open auction in October.
The LLT hopes to unload the properties by the end of the year.