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The Wall St. Journal had an article last week (not online) about the city’s feverish demolition of blighted houses. This would be a good thing, except that the City is accidentally demolishing many houses that it shouldn’t be. (See similar MSNBC story)  My friend Harold owns some property that he plans to renovate, but recently found out it’s slated to be demolished.  Oops.

As we approach the two year mark of Katrina a lot of people are fed up with the widespread incompetence. The Road Home program was not only poorly administered, but also inadequately funded.  The District Attorney has been releasing criminals because his office can’t find the witnesses, even though news reporters find them by simply going to their last known address. 

If the unrelenting incompetence doesn’t make you call a moving
company then the rampant corruption surely will.  Bill Jefferson hasn’t
been convicted yet but he had $90,000 in his freezer because he
apparently thought it was safer there than in a federally insured
bank.  As a result, many people have dispensed with the presumption of
innocence and reached the sensible conclusion that he’s corrupt. I’d
always presumed that Oliver Thomas (the politician most likely to
succeed Nagin) was a decent guy.   But today, in a development that
caught everyone by surprise, Thomas pled guilty to taking bribes and resigned from the City Council.
Which democratic politician will he testify against as part of his plea
deal?  No one knows. But we’re still recovering from the shock of
Senator David Vitter’s admission that he’d hired prostitutes.  How
could we have been so misled? One minute the moralizing Republican is a
rapidly rising political star, and the next he’s spiraling back to
earth in a vapor-trail of hypocrisy.

Incompetence, corruption, and hypocrisy.  Apparently, these are the
raw materials of our "recovery effort." I came back after Katrina
thinking that things would change and we’d take advantage of a unique
opportunity to create a new foundation.  Now, I’m thinking I should
have sold my house and moved to a new city.

The new assessors have issued their edicts, and guess what?
Property assessments have gone up.  My dad’s condominium is worth much
less than it was before Katrina.  But it costs significantly more to
insure.  The utility payments are higher and the taxes will be too.  I
don’t know what my house is worth, but I’m pretty sure that it isn’t
worth more than it was pre-Katrina.  It’s likely to be worth less.  Oh,
and speaking of assessments, some people haven’t received the forms
that they need to file for their homestead exemptions. And the deadline
for filing for the exemption is coming up in a few days.  A friend of
mine had this problem and had to go to City Hall: she said that it took
her all day because the office was inundated with people who hadn’t
gotten their forms, or who were trying to have their property
reassessed.  Given the rampant incompetence, you just know that there
is at least one guy who waited in line at City Hall for hours to file
for his homestead exemption, only to later find out that his property
was ‘accidentally bulldozed.’

Oh and don’t try to cheer yourself up by talking about the weather.
We’ve also been having an incredible heat wave (on Saturday the heat
index was over 120 degrees).  The weather was a big topic for
politicians last year.   Back then city officials were worried about
major climatic threats: e.g., catastrophic hurricanes caused by global
warming. 

If I were a politician today I’d be more worried about violent revolution.

Update: Someone emailed me and asked how one would find out
which houses were slated to be demolished.  I don’t know exactly, but
one resource that provides a good start is this list compiled by Karen Gadbois.  Anyone else have better information?

Second Update.  Here is an exerpt I received from a friend about her experience at City Hall:

"I had to go to City Hall today to submit an appeal.  The line to get on the elevator was incredibly long – at least 200 people.  The police officers in charge made people wait in line even if they were just submitting an appeal.  According to the letter, I shouldn’t have had to wait.  Finally, after 45 minutes, I was allowed to go to the fourth floor to submit my appeal.  (I was determined to get this done no matter how long I had to wait!)

When I finally saw the deputy assessor, he gave me a hard time.   But, of course, I wouldn’t have it and stood my ground.  He ended up telling me right before I left that he had to give me a hard time.  I looked at him and said so did I.

But you are right.  A woman standing in line told me that she had not received any notification about the assessment and that she took the day off from work and drove from Baton Rouge to take care of the situation.  Of couse, if she actually got to talk to the assessor is another question.  The line only moved one inch in the course of my 45 minutes."


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

7 Comments

  • Interesting to see … thank you it’s well done , well written article 🙂

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  • Frolic says:

    Hey Ernie, I’m one of those people too. We made a lot of sacrifices to come back after the storm. We even invested in our first house here in New Orleans last summer. We’re in all the way.

    The year after the storm was kind of a golden period. Yes, there was terrible tragedy, but there was also this wonderful sense of community and endless possibilities. We were (or at least I was) very naive. I honestly thought that crime could be controlled. Remember walking around at night and not worrying about your safety?

    But now, it’s clear that we still have all the old problem along with lots of new storm-related problems. It’s going to be a long, slow slog and nothing is guaranteed. There are so many problems and they go very deep.

    But who knows, the assessments could have lots of unintended consequences. Now plenty of rich, powerful people will be paying a lot more money to the city. Maybe that will encourage them to take an interest in how the city and the schools run?

  • Ernie says:

    Sorry for the confusion. The post is borne out of frustration. I’m not against reassessment of the properties. My house assessment went up and I didn’t challenge it. I hope that the taxes will be fairly determined too. But here’s the thing.

    There was this hurricane. It was major and it caused major disruption. People who came back and stayed (like me) and who voted to reform the assessor system (like me) wanted to have a community that took advantage of the opportunity to make serious foundational changes. Some people who left after the storm because they didn’t believe the city could recover made money selling their houses (my neighbors for example). They are living in new communities that have good schools and a thriving economy. Good for them, you might say. If you aren’t saying that, I am.

    What I’m saying is: I made a mistake. I should have left too. Or, at a minimum, I shouldn’t have been so naive as to think that New Orleans would pull itself together. We have poor leaders. We had them before the storm, and we’ve re-elected almost all of them after the storm. The crime rate is back up. The economy is poor for small businesses. The education system may be slightly improved, but it will take a long time to determine if that improvement is lasting or significant. Taxes are going to go up. The cost of living is going up. Buying or selling real estate is very problematic. Government services are poorly administered (e.g. the failure to mail out assessments, or the inadvertent bulldozing of homes that shouldn’t be bulldozed).

    I’m not hoping for sympathy, so I’m glad you’re not offering any. I’m pointing out that New Orleans has some serious problems and the people who experience those problems are the ones who came back to try to make the city work. You shouldn’t have sympathy for them. No doubt a lot of people are whining and complaining when they shouldn’t be. That happens every day in every part of the world. And almost everyone does it at some point along the way. Anyone who claims that they don’t indulge in needless complaining is either a spiritual guru, or something near the other end of the spectrum.

    I’m not unhappy with my life. I have a great life and I enjoy every day that I live here on this beautiful planet. I try to see things as they are and appreciate the good that exists. But I also recognize the things that don’t make sense. And, unfortunately, I’m starting to see that living in New Orleans doesn’t make as much sense now as it did a year ago. And I’m not expecting it to make sense any time in the near future, if ever.

  • Frolic says:

    Of course assessments went up. That’s what we wanted. It was the whole point of this reform.Too many people were under-assessed and not paying their fair share.

    I’m confused by your post. Why would your father’s taxes go up if the assessment of his condo went down (I assume that you meant his property taxes)?

    Despite all the confusion and numerous mistakes, I would bet anyone money that overall New Orleans property is now more fairly assessed than it was last year. Mistakes are inevitable when someone has to sweep in and fix decades of people not doing their jobs. People have ever right to complain if there was an error. At the same time, a lot of the complaints are people whining as they lose their privilege and advantage. Sorry, I’ve got no sympathy for those who have taken advantage of the system and rip off this city for far too long.

  • Aaron says:

    Mackenzie, the biggest problems with the Orleans Parish assessments is not with the properties which haven’t changed hands in 30 plus years but the recently purchased properties. If you bought your property two years ago, the purchase price IS the assessed price, and that should be 100% accurate for the market. There’s no justification that the recently purchased property should have its assessed value raised 300% – property values haven’t risen 300% in the last two years. It’s flatly unrealistic. For every old house that was undervalued in the city it seems like 3 or 4 recently purchased ones are having their assessments unfairly raised as well.

  • Mackenzie says:

    In the case of the property assessments, though, isn’t it true that the Parish hasn’t done assessments for many, many years? If that’s the case, it makes sense that assessment values would go up, even post-Katrina, because properties are still worth more than they were 50 years ago (or whenever).

    Of course, I can’t come up with any justification for the politicians. Everyone jokes about having the “best politicians money can buy,” but that’s the only place I’ve seen where it appears to be obviously and very true.

  • Stanley Feldman says:

    One minute the moralizing Republican is a rapidly rising political star, and the next he’s spiraling back to earth in a vapor-trail of hypocrisy. (My favorite sentence in the piece.)