In East Baton Rouge Parish, blight comes in many forms: overgrown lawns, piles of tires and trash, and collapsed roofs. But the word “blight” itself also comes in different forms with different meanings depending on who you ask. Louisiana law defines “blighted property” as “premises … which are vacant, uninhabitable, and hazardous and because of their physical condition, are considered hazardous to persons or property …, and have been declared to be a public nuisance by a court.” Colloquially though, “blight” encompasses not only those relatively few properties that are ever declared “blighted” by a court, but all distressed property.
Confusing the matter further is the distinction between property that is physically blighted and property that is tax delinquent and then adjudicated to the state. While blight and tax adjudication are often associated with one another, not all owners of blighted property fall behind on their taxes and not all properties that are tax adjudicated have fallen into physical disrepair. While there are over 6,000 tax adjudicated properties in East Baton Rouge Parish, the fact that there is not a perfect overlap between blight and adjudication makes it difficult to pinpoint the total number of blighted properties with any amount of certainty.
Systematic enforcement of State and local laws already in place, and the resources required to do so, would drastically improve the speed and scale at which East Baton Rouge Parish can address blight.
Addressing blight has been a struggle in Baton Rouge for a few reasons. First, ordinance violations have not been systematically enforced, relying instead on the City-Parish responding to individual complaints as they come in, which allows many blighted properties to simply slip through the cracks. Second, fines that are assessed to blighted properties are added to the property tax bill, instead of being separately enforced as individual liens. This is an efficient way to process fines, but it relies on the property tax system to function correctly, which for years has had problems properly notifying tax delinquent owners.
Act 384 of the 2019 Louisiana Legislature clarifies the requisite procedures for future tax sales. However, there remains a backlog of decades of properties that have questionably valid tax sales, making the properties risky to redevelop and without an identifiable owner to hold accountable. These properties require more individualized attention to find solutions for returning them to commerce. Current measures to mitigate blight are happening on a case by case basis as blight is reported and as solutions can be found. Systematic enforcement of State and local laws already in place, and the resources required to do so, would drastically improve the speed and scale at which East Baton Rouge Parish can address blight.
The issues with addressing blight highlight the need for a centralized process that considers the full range of factors that impact distressed property, from systematic code enforcement to tax delinquency to absentee ownership. In municipalities across the country, redevelopment authorities and land banks coordinate the resources necessary to return vacant and neglected properties back to commerce. Build Baton Rouge, as the redevelopment authority of East Baton Rouge and given its ability to land bank adjudicated property, is uniquely positioned to fulfill this role in Baton Rouge.