New Orleans Requiring Cleanup of Homes Hit by Katrina

Once Hurricane Katrina's one-year anniversary passes, the city intends to begin enforcing a new deadline for cleaning up property flooded by the storm.

The city has ignored blighted housing for years, said Vanessa Gueringer, who said she belongs to a local activist group. Now, she said, the attitude is "gut it or lose it."

Elderly property owners and those on waiting lists to have their homes gutted can get hardship exemptions under the ordinance, which the City Council passed unanimously Friday. An entire neighborhood — the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward — also is exempted.

City councilman Arnie Fielkow, who helped write the measure, said it will allow New Orleans to continue making progress in its recovery, and to do so fairly.

Some property owners and community activists have said they're worried that many people may be unable to gut or otherwise clean up properties in time, nearly a year after floodwaters inundated this city. The risk of having a home demolished or seized — declared either a public nuisance or a blight — also has prompted outcry.

But some residents have defended action by the city, saying overgrown lots and filthy homes created health hazards and a hindrance to people moving in.

"Signs of progress and recovery have got to be made," resident Scott Shea told the council Friday.

The measure says the city will begin inspections after Aug. 29, the storm's anniversary. It isn't more specific, though Fielkow made it clear he wanted action.

The ordinance, introduced Friday, details the procedure that could lead to a home being demolished or seized.

People would have 30 days after an initial notice to clean or gut their property, or to find someone to do it. Disputes would go to a hearing officer, and could go to court.

Although the city's Web site indicates that the waiting list for organizations offering free gutting services is several months long, the ordinance would give a "reasonable grace period of 60 days." Council president Oliver Thomas said residents still could apply for a longer hardship exemption.