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First offer on a Gordon Plaza home could come next week, promises New Orleans appraiser

Gordon Plaza City Park April rally
Halle Parker
/
WWNO
Gordon Plaza residents rally on the steps of the New Orleans Museum of Arts in City Park in April, pushing for the city to buy them out of homes built on the toxic site of a former landfill.

After months of heated debate over the city’s plan to relocate New Orleans residents from a toxic site, the appraiser charged with valuing the buyouts pledged to share his results publicly next week.

Such a report would offer more clarity into how New Orleans officials will assess all properties and whether offers will be enough for what residents have demanded for decades: a fully-funded relocation.

Gordon Plaza resident Sheena Dedmond, who sits on the city council’s relocation task force, volunteered to have appraiser Jim Thorn, a city contractor, appraise her 2,800-square-foot home, make an offer from the city and share it with the group on Friday, Oct. 21 in the chambers of City Hall.

While the neighborhood’s houses and lots vary in size, the offer would offer a sample of Thorn’s current method and what it would yield for other property owners in Gordon Plaza.

Gordon Plaza meeting May 17.jpg
Halle Parker
/
WWNO
Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. board member Jesse Perkins leads a chant following a meeting with the Cantrell administration and some City Council members in City Hall on May 17, 2022.

Arguments between residents and the Cantrell administration over how to value properties have dominated meetings for nearly four months. Because the Gordon Plaza subdivision was built on top of the former site of a landfill, calculating potential buyouts off the open market would fall far short of what’s needed for residents to move out.

Instead, the residents have consistently called for the use of an appraisal method known as replacement cost to be used. Typically, appraisers use a sales comparison method, which means comparing a property’s worth to other similar, recently sold homes. But they can also appraise based on how much it would cost to construct the house from scratch – or replace it.

The residents argued that the replacement or construction cost metric would yield results closer to what their homes would be worth if they weren’t located on toxic soil.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Thorn said he plans to use a sales comparison of similar homes in another New Orleans neighborhood that’s similar to Gordon Plaza for his appraisal to remove the environmental hazard from the equation. Residents and housing advocates noted that the method could be discriminatory based on what neighborhood he chooses, noting that home values vary between majority Black and majority white areas.

Thorn agreed to consider replacement cost as part of his appraisal process, even if it isn’t used in the final offer. For Dedmond’s home, he promised to complete the appraisal and have the offer ready by next Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Located in the Desire neighborhood, Gordon Plaza is the last populated neighborhood on the former site of the Agriculture Street landfill, home to 67 properties. The area once hosted a public housing development called Press Park, a senior housing complex and an elementary school that were all shut down after Hurricane Katrina.

Residents began to feel the health effects of living in the area within a decade of purchasing homes in the 1980s in a community that was billed as affordable housing for Black families. By 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency had declared it one of the most toxic Superfund sites in the country.

Despite cleanup efforts, residents said they haven't been free from illness and have pressed the city for relocation for decades. A renewed effort in the past two years has brought residents closer than ever before to a city-funded relocation.

Cantrell's office plans to convert the Superfund site into a renewable energy park and buy out residents in the process. In late June, the City Council set aside $35 million to fund the effort.

In a Sept. 2 meeting with the nonprofit, Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc., residents present said Mayor Latoya Cantrell floated that if property owners agreed to $245,000 each, her administration could get them the checks “next week.”

It was the residents first meeting with Cantrell herself since August 2019.

Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.

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