Mayor: Laura left behind 300-400 condemned commercial buildings

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2021

More than a year after Hurricane Laura’s landfall, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said there are an estimated 300 to 400 commercial properties within the city that are being condemned or tagged for demolition.

To address this issue, the City Council took action Wednesday to increase the daily fine for unsecured commercial properties from $500 to $1,000 in certain instances. The council also amended the city’s limitation on boarded up commercial structures from 24 months to 12 months.

Hunter said he understands the time business owners have needed since Hurricane Laura to work with insurance companies and FEMA to get their damaged buildings repaired. The city also realizes that some property owners need to be pushed to take action on blighted buildings.

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“Property owners have been through a lot,” he said. “We also hear cries from the neighbors — people who are living or working across the street or next door to some of these properties. We can’t allow these things to exist forever in the city.”

Hunter said the city needs to be better positioned to recoup any money spent on demolition if these commercial buildings are condemned and the owner doesn’t take action, forcing the city to demolish them. He said it would cost the city in excess of $15 million to demolish every commercial and residential property that needed it.

In late May, FEMA gave approval for its Private Property Debris Removal program to be enacted within city limits. The program offers reimbursement for demolition of certain hurricane-damaged homes and removal of debris from private property, given they meet certain guidelines.

“Through a combination of FEMA, supplemental disaster aid and hopefully some insurance proceeds on the private side, we do believe we can make some headway,” Hunter said.

The Sept. 30 congressional approval of the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funding will provide some opportunities for local homeowners to get relief and return to sustainable housing, Hunter said. He said the city is confident the state will launch a housing effort similar to the Road Home program that was created after Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 landfall.