St. Bernard targets blighted homes in fight against drugs


Posted on April 12, 2012 at 6:22 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 12 at 6:41 PM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

ST. BERNARD, La. -- As crews finish clearing a lot on Stacie Drive in St. Bernard, Nina Harris thinks back on what used to be here.

"A junkyard," said Harris. "They threw away mattresses, washing machines, dryers, broken down wood."

And so, the deteriorating house that once stood across from Harris' home was one of the first to be knocked down as part of a ramped-up effort to fight blight and crime in St. Bernard.

Parish President Dave Peralta is working with the sheriff's office to identify decaying homes that are suspected drug havens, and tear them down.

"We know they're traveling inside these abandoned houses and bringing out what we believe is drugs that (were) hidden in the house to complete a drug transaction," said Sheriff-Elect Jimmy Pohlmann.

Officials said the particular Violet neighborhood has long been a hot spot for drug activity, and they believe the abandoned homes that dot Stacie Drive are aggravating the problem.

The sheriff's office has asked that another abandoned house on Stacie Drive be put on the fast track list to be torn down. They believe it could also be linked to drug activity.

"It's a quality of life issue," said Peralta. "I campaigned on fact that I thought if we brought community back, cleanliness is one of the first things people want to see and its contagious."

So far, the parish has identified between 300 and 350 homes that are eligible for demolition. Roughly 20 to 30 are suspected "stash pads," where dealers store drugs or money.

Meanwhile, Harris said knocking down the blighted home on her street will help her sleep easier.

"It's a lot safer," said Harris. "You can't hide drugs, you can't hide drug money, so it's a lot safer for the kids and the neighborhood."

Peralta said he hopes to have 20 to 25 homes demolished each week at the height of the program.

FEMA and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness have agreed to fund St. Bernard's blight program for six months. Based on the number of demolitions left, the parish will likely ask for more money at the end of that period.