Data News Staff Edited Report
Recently, Council Vice President Helena Moreno codified a new law to authorize the city to enforce code enforcement violations against slumlord nonprofits that imperil the safety of their residents.
The law, authorized by a State Constitutional Amendment authored by State Representative Jason Hughes and passed by voters in October, provides a clear public process for stripping tax exemptions from nonprofits operating slum properties cited by City Code Enforcement.
“Thanks to all of the residents and the advocates for bringing attention to the issues at The Willows and similar sites throughout our city,” said Councilmember Moreno. “We were so proud to work alongside a great leader in our community, Rep. Jason Hughes, to pass a Statewide Constitutional Amendment to give cities more tools to address living conditions at residential properties owned by law-breaking nonprofits. It’s been years of issues at The Willows that led to Rep. Hughes and I offering up a constitutional amendment to remove property tax exemptions from nonprofit slumlords. We thought this type of step was a necessary additional tool to get slumlords in compliance but knew it would take tremendous work and a statewide vote. Today’s ordinance creates a transparent public process to remove these exemptions and put these properties back on the tax rolls by forcing violators to pay fines and bring properties up to code. It also provides reinstatement processes for properties that have been rehabilitated and infractions addressed.”
“The result of this monumental effort, first and foremost, is a testament to partnership, and I want to reiterate to the public that the legislative branches of government – federal, state, and local – we will work hand in hand to get things done on behalf of our citizens,” said Representative Hughes. “There were many skeptical colleagues in the legislature who wondered why we introduced this constitutional amendment, and the answer is simple: we did it on behalf of the people. That’s why we took this effort on. Council Vice President, I could not have asked for a better friend and partner in this effort than you. You were there every step of the way; you helped lead many intense, meaningful and necessary negotiations with our extraordinary housing advocates. The win is not for me, Vice President Moreno or members of this City Council; the win was on behalf of our residents, and they deserve it. This is another meaningful tool in the toolbox and a testament to what we can accomplish when we work together.”
“I am in full support of this item addressing the nonprofit status of owners who own properties that for years have negatively affected the quality of life for tenants and surrounding communities,” said Dawn Hebert, President of East New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission. “Properties that have been poorly managed have not been properly addressed or cited by Code Enforcement, HANO or HUD. In particular, The Willows Apartment Complex has experienced increasingly higher rates of crime including several murders and ongoing substantiated tenant complaints. I am happy that Councilmember Moreno has been out there to see up close and personal what is happening. Over the last couple of years, I have been attempting to get some type of citation on this apartment complex because my neighborhood borders the complex. Many of the owners of these complexes are outside owners. I am thankful for you all to bring this to fruition, and I do wish that Code Enforcement takes this seriously because they have the documents and the data to go forward and deal with these properties.”
The law was inspired by apartment properties such as The Willows in New Orleans East, which are owned by out-of-state nonprofits and have clear code enforcement violations that go unenforced due to the property’s tax-free status. Under the new law, the Council has the authority to hold a public hearing to strip the nonprofit tax exemption from the property and, therefore, subject it to code enforcement liens and fines. Without tools like this, properties like The Willows can avoid accountability even when they violate life safety codes that puts residents’ health and lives at risk.
The constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly on October 14th and goes into effect on January 1, 2024. The new laws passed by Councilmember Moreno enact this authority at the first possible date.