NEW ORLEANS - As the auctioneer rattled off bids inside the convention center Saturday, each raised hand was a sign of progress, another step toward getting vacant properties back on the tax rolls, said city officials.
"This is huge, being able to put these properties back on the market, especially the ones that people have indicated interest in, I think it's big for rebuilding the neighborhoods," said Jeff Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, or NORA.
NORA auctioned off about 130 properties Saturday, mostly vacant lots. It's the third auction of it's kind so far, and the first in which properties were put up for sale based on their popularity online. It drew hundreds of potential buyers.
"In many cases, it's a matter of helping to fortify their neighborhood and area, and taking advantage of an investment at below market, possibly, at the same time," said Al Edwards, a New Orleanian who planned to bid on properties in Mid-City or Lakeview.
The auction is poised to help strengthen neighborhoods throughout the city that are still coming back from Hurricane Katrina, said officials. Those neighborhoods include New Orleans East, where Lynell Ratliff purchased a home through the auction. She plans to either rent it out or move family members in.
"Instead of relying so much on commercial rental property, then we get some good people back into the neighborhoods hopefully, and hopefully rehab some of the areas that have been neglected for so long," said Ratleff.
The highest bidder has one year from the closing date to finish building or renovating their new property, a policy meant to quickly take blight out of neighborhoods. But this won't be the last auction of its kind. With nearly 3,000 former Road Home properties left in New Orleans, the city hopes to auction at least 600 more.
The city expects about half the former Road Home properties won't sell. Instead, the city has long term plans for making use of them, including parks and urban farms.
If you would like to find out more about NORA properties that could go up for auction, log onto http://www.Noraworks.Org/.