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Monday, July 17, 2017

SHREVEPORT REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY

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They have real promise for the city’s empty lots

It’s rare, as in real rare, that New Orleans is looked to as a model for progressive government. But such is the case with the New Orleans Redevelopment Agency (NORA), which will serve as a model for the Shreveport Implementation and Redevelopment Agency (SIRA). NORA was created in 1968, and it initially focused its efforts on elimination of physical blight in the Lower Ninth Ward, the Central Center, Desire-Florida area and the Tulane/ Gravier neighborhood. Hurricane Katrina flooding exacerbated housing abandonment and blight in the Crescent City and resulted in the transfer to NORA of 5,000 properties acquired by the state of Louisiana through the Road Home program; NORA still serves as a landbank for approximately 2,500 of these properties.

SIRA’s primary responsibility is to prevent and eliminate slum, blighted and distressed properties by salvage, renewal, redevelopment and/or reconstruction. Currently, Shreveport has almost 6,000 properties that have been adjudicated to the city for the failure of the owners to pay the city ad valorem taxes. These properties are of such low economic value that when the properties were advertised at tax sale, no one purchased them, not even for $1! These lots produce no tax revenue and actually cost the city for mowing and upkeep. In 2016 the city’s mowing expenses were almost $520,000.

These properties are primarily concentrated in Allendale, Queensborough and the Cooper Road area; many of these have abandoned dwellings or structures that are obsolete, unsafe and unsanitary. The combination of the empty lots and these blighted structures make these areas economic and social liabilities; additionally, they consume a disproportionate amount of city revenues because of extra services for police, fire and public services. To say these decaying neighborhoods are a drain on city resources is an understatement, matched only by the civic eyesore that they represent.

SIRA will be responsible for formulating workable programs for redevelopment consistent with the Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan and the city’s Consolidated Strategic Plan to eliminate and to prevent the development or spread of slums and blight. To accomplish these goals, SIRA is to seek out cooperative endeavors with nonprofit organizations and private enterprise. SIRA can acquire properties by gifts, purchase or lease; the city’s large bank of adjudicated properties will give SIRA plenty of initial inventory.

SIRA is to be governed by a ninemember board, three of which are to be selected by Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler in her total discretion. The other six members are to be selected by Tyler from names submitted by the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, the Shreveport Bar Association, the Shreveport Chapter of the Society of Louisiana Certified Public Accountants, the Community Foundation of North Louisiana, the Northwest Louisiana Association of Realtors and the Home Builders Association of Northwest Louisiana.

The enabling legislation was passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2015; after two years, Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler has finally started making appointments to SIRA. The appointments recently approved by the City Councl were Kirsten Brown (president of Brown Builders), Dare Johnson (managing partner of Heard McElroy and Vestal), Scott Sevier (Sevier Homebuilders) and Shanerick Flemings (Second Circuit Court of Appeals). Pending nominations to be approved on July 25 are Tom Arceneux (president of Highland Restoration Association) and Lloyd Thompson (NAACP president).

Hopefully, the remaining three board members will be selected soon; why Tyler has waited so long to get these much-needed appointments rolling is an open question. The SIRA has the potential to revitalize these municipally owned properties and return them to the active tax rolls. Many inner-city areas are becoming commercial and housing deserts; SIRA could revise this trend and, thus, help Shreveport’s overall quality of life and economic stability.

John E. Settle Jr. has been a resident of Shreveport since January 1977. His articles appear regularly in local publications. He can be reached at 742-5513 or e-mail to: john@jsettle.com

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