NEW ORLEANS – Under pressure from angry residents and a lawsuit, the city of New Orleans has agreed to notify owners before any Hurricane Katrina -damaged home is demolished, even those homes washed into streets or reduced to heaps of debris.
Homeowners were outraged last month when a top official announced that 2,500 buildings had to be torn down within weeks because they posed an imminent threat to the public.
A lawsuit was filed to stop the city from proceeding with its plans, and on Dec. 28 the city agreed to put off any demolitions until the case could be heard in court.
On Friday, a federal judge approved a settlement between the city and plaintiffs that set up a notification system.
Under the agreement, homeowners of about 120 properties that were seriously damaged or pose an immediate threat to the public will be given seven to 10 days notice. A 30-day notice will be given to the owners of about 1,900 other houses slated for demolition.
Homeowners will be able to challenge demolitions.
"There are a lot of folks around town who I expect will protest," said Tracie Washington, a lawyer with the Washington-based Advancement Project, the advocacy group that championed the fight against the demolitions.
The city attorney's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday morning. The city has said it will begin notifying residents within weeks.
Washington said the lawsuit was filed because many residents evacuated to other cities have not had a chance to go through their homes to find their possessions or because, in some cases, residents were still waiting for their insurers to assess their damage.
"I can't imagine coming back after being shipped off to another city and coming home and finding my home not there," Washington said.
The city has said that as many as 5,500 homes and businesses on the east bank of the Mississippi River may need to be razed.