Could New York City set up its own Louisiana Land Trust?
Last month, two councilmen from Staten Island went on a fact-finding mission to New Orleans and came back with an idea for how to help some New York City homeowners recover from Hurricane Sandy: the creation of a New York City version of the Louisiana Land Trust.
The idea came to Councilmen Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo when, during a visit to the University of New Orleans, on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, they met with Michael Taylor, the trust's executive director.
"Vinny and I kind of stole a glance at each other when we understand what his role was," Oddo recalled.
Here's how the idea worked.
In 2006, the state of Louisiana created a trust and empowered it to acquire properties from homeowners hit hard by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The trust, in turn, would maintain the lots and then try to sell them to developers, private property owners, parishes, the sort of folks eager to rebuild, and with the financial wherewithal to do so.
The idea could conceivably work in New York City because it addresses some of the very objections Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has toward anything that could be construed as a permanent retreat from the waterfront.
"Some of the concerns among the Bloomberg administration is abandonment of the waterfront and loss of a tax base," Ignizio said.
In nearly all of his public statements so far, Bloomberg has expressed a preference for rebuilding, rather than retreating, from the waterfront, which would seem to put him at odds with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who this week announced that he was planning to set aside up to $400 million in federal funds to buy shorefront homes devastated by Hurricane Sandy and render them fallow, permanently.
Fortunately for homeowners like those residents of Fox Beach who want to be bought out, Bloomberg's position does appear to be softening, if not yet actually shifting.
The Louisiana Land Trust solution represents an alternative to Cuomo's idea, or at least a complementary one, which Bloomberg might be more likely to get behind.
"I know this is one of the approaches we are considering," said Bloomberg spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua.
A Cuomo spokesman had no immediate comment.
In Louisiana, about 120,000 people took advantage of the program, according to GeGe Roulaine, spokeswoman for the trust. Since its advent, the trust has held title to more than 10,600 properties. It has since sold more than 8,000 of them.
"The mission ends when we have really run out of properties," she said.
The program hasn't gone entirely smoothly.
A number of homeowners who took rebuilding grants haven't rebuilt at all, something the state is now investigating.
And there have been some complaints about the trust's maintenance of the properties it has acquired.
Nevertheless, it's a strategy that Oddo and Ignizio thinks should be considered alongside the sort of buyouts championed by Cuomo, particularly since it would give the city more say in the redevelopment process.
"The beauty of the government coming in is that you can ... kind of control the development," said Oddo.