Growing Home: Redevelopment Authority

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in an 11-part series detailing the final 10 catalytic projects of the 50-year Just Imagine resilience plan. All of the projects are based on input from area residents, high school students, business and nonprofit leaders and elected officials. The final three Community Engagement Sessions in which residents can offer their feedback on the projects will be June 6-8.

Marshall Simien Jr. is president of the Simien Law Firm and Chairman of the Board for the Community Foundation Southwest Louisiana.

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Driving through our neighborhoods in Southwest Louisiana the past few years, you probably noticed empty lots and abandoned homes. Since August 2020, you may have noticed even more vacant lots and abandoned homes.

Prior to Hurricanes Laura and Delta there were an estimated 670 adjudicated properties in the Lake Charles area alone, and that number continues to grow every day from abandoned and uninhabited properties due to hurricane damage, from heirship entanglements or other issues. Add these growing numbers to those in Calcasieu and Cameron, and the numbers rise into the thousands.

Blighted properties, unusable land and adjudicated properties decay residential areas that already have existing infrastructure such as streets, water, sewer and electricity. Residential decay causes economic stress that withers away at existing commercial development and halts future development, which we call urban decay. How do we get these properties back into commerce and why should we?

One solution is to create a city-wide redevelopment authority whose mission is to bring properties back into commerce, identify and assemble land for planned development, assist and help develop, revitalize and strengthen our communities to grow and prosper as a city. A redevelopment authority is an entity created by the state Legislature to preserve and redevelop distressed areas to promote public safety and welfare. Redevelopment authorities serve as catalysts for community growth and change.

Communities throughout our country employ redevelopment authorities to aid in the fulfillment of economic and development objectives. They work with public and private partners in the redevelopment of distressed areas, facilitating solutions that drive robust recovery efforts, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters, that restore hope, energy and pride to communities traveling the difficult road to recovery.

Great examples of successful redevelopment authorities can be found down I-10 east. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a consensus developed that the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (“NORA”) was equipped with revitalization tools and powers making it the ideal entity to help implement city-wide recovery initiatives. NORA’s board membership was expanded, and it assembled a staff of highly trained redevelopment specialists. It functioned as the city’s land bank, assembling and managing a large portfolio of vacant properties across the city, working with private landowners to parcel and assemble properties for state-of-the art residential development, commercial corridor revitalization, and a catalyst for New Orleans’ revitalization, as well as partnering in strategic developments that celebrate the city’s neighborhoods and honor its traditions.

I recently visited the Mid-City area and was absolutely astounded by the transformation and development this formerly blighted area is experiencing. NORA’s Neighborhoods Stabilization Program has spurred the redevelopment of the city’s 9th Ward with hundreds of newly constructed and completely renovated affordable housing units. Please visit its website and see for yourself the solutions a redevelopment authority can bring to our area.

Another example is the Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority (“Build Baton Rouge”), which was created in 2007 and whose mission includes all of East Baton Rouge Parish. It too serves as a land bank and has a community development entity that secured tens of millions of dollars in new market tax credits to support projects such as YMCAs, hotels, the Honeywell facility, which recently announced a $154 million expansion and other significant community revitalization projects. Please visit its website.

The formation of a redevelopment authority is one of the ten catalytic projects shaped by community input in the Just Imagine SWLA 50-year Resilience Master Plan. I invite each of you to be a part of this important opportunity to reimagine how SWLA recovers, rebuilds and grows to fully realize our area’s vast potential for significant and sustained residential and commercial growth, quality of life, full inclusion and participation, as well as the resiliency needed to strengthen the fabric of this community, we all call home. Learn more about redevelopment and recovery authorities and the other ten projects by visiting and attending a community meeting:

l Monday, June 6, Cash and Carry, Lake Charles, 6-8 p.m.

l Tuesday, June 7, West-Cal Event Center, Sulphur, 6-8 p.m.

l Wednesday, June 8, Grand Lake High School Gym, Grand Lake, 5-7 p.m.