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David Hammer / Eyewitness News
Email: dhammer@wwltv.com | Twitter: @davidhammerWWL

Gordon Russell / The Advocate
Email: grussell@theadvocate.com | Twitter: @GordonRussell1

It's difficult, if not impossible, to assess precisely how many Road Home properties in New Orleans are blighted or in disrepair.

But there are a range of tools for estimating.

For starters, the universe of potential candidates is known: 41,734 homes in Orleans Parish got Option 1 renovation grants, according to the state Office of Community Development.

That same office estimates that 4,678 of those grant recipients, some 11 percent, are 'not likely to rebuild.' That number is based on the office's correspondence with grant recipients.

Separately, a contractor working for the state conducted a 'drive-by survey' of roughly one-tenth of the homes statewide that got Option 1 grants. That survey found a failure rate of 22 percent in New Orleans. If those properties were assumed to be blighted, that would result in a total of 8,562 blighted Road Home properties.

But properties that failed the drive-by survey are not necessarily blighted. The grants require homeowners to renovate and reoccupy their property. So if, for instance, an Option 1 grantee demolished his home, but kept his lot neat, he would receive a failing grade from the state, but the city would not consider the property blighted.

Finally, there's the city's own 'code enforcement pipeline,' a list of 10,545 properties that city officials have cited in the last few years for blight. That list comes with caveats: The pipeline includes all properties the city has cited for blight since 2011 that have not been cleared upon reinspection and thus may include some properties that have been remediated.

Meanwhile, the 'blight list' does not include a huge number of properties that it probably should. The most recent authoritative estimate, done in March by UNO professor Peter Yaukey, estimated that the city actually has between 29,164 and 33,427 blighted properties.

On the city's much shorter 'blight list,' at least 1,867 properties also received Road Home grants. If that proportion is extrapolated, it would suggest there are between 5,250 to 6,017 blighted Road Home properties in the city. That would mean roughly 14 percent of the total number of properties that got grants are blighted, or about one in every seven.

The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV joined forces with WhoData.org to analyze these various data sets because state and local agencies have struggled to coordinate their enforcement efforts.
Michelle Thompson, a professor at the University of New Orleans who founded WhoData, had her student workers map the city's blight pipeline data and compare it with the state's Road Home grant records.

'There's been a lot of problems with clean data,' Thompson said. 'The (state) Office of Community Development has been working with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and the city GIS (Geographic Information Systems). The problem is all of those data sets have not been combined in a way that you can actually display them spatially. That's what this project has done. We've been able to take a lot of time to try to put the information together.'

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