Home value is important as for many it is the biggest savings that they have. In Gordon Plaza, however, they don’t get what they want and maybe because of the location and the fact they will not be bought by a person but rather the city.
Residents of Gordon Plaza, the New Orleans subdivision built atop a toxic landfill, were relieved when the city agreed to their long-sought demand to be relocated. But five months later, they say the plan has become bogged down in disputes over how their homes are being valued and the legality of a fund to pay for their moving costs. Residents of the Desire-area neighborhood clashed again with the appraiser this week, rehashing arguments on the sample appraisal he conducted in mid-October. Not much ground was given on either side. They asked the city to either have its current appraiser, Jim Thorns, change his practices in evaluating their homes, or hire a second appraiser to assist him. Residents said at a meeting of the city’s Gordon Plaza Task Force on Monday that extra consideration had to be given to produce a fair appraisal, and pointed to a recent study promoted by the National Fair Housing Alliance which found that common appraisal practices have been inherently discriminatory. In October, Gordon Plaza resident Sheena Dedmond’s 2,898-square-foot home was valued at $358,000, including $28,000 in land value. “The tools you use and the decisions that you make is what opens up the devaluation and the discriminatory practices,” said Angela Kinlaw of activist group Residents of Gordon Plaza. “The rationale for the decisions you’ve made is not acceptable when you say things like, ‘everybody that lives in New Orleans lives in a flood zone, so it doesn’t matter.’ It does matter.”nola.com
The study showed that minority home owners got far less than White owners.
The study, sponsored by non-profit housing organization Eruka and Washington University, used a federal data set that contained over 32 million appraisals from 2013 to 2021. It found that White neighborhoods have homes appraised at double the value of homes in communities of color, and that racial inequality in appraisals has increased 75% over the last 10 years. Thorns repeated previous explanations he has given for why his appraisal process was non-discriminatory and should not change. He said that when finding homes to compare to Dedmond’s, he used neighborhoods with similar socio-economic statistics: Gentilly Woods and Pontchartrain Park. “There was no discrimination whatsoever on my part as it relates to an appraisal, whether it was here or anywhere else,” Thorns said. “I’ve been in the appraisal business for over 40 years and I’ve never been accused of any discrimination, and I’m regulated by my license to ensure that I am not.” Gordon Plaza was built in the late 70s and marketed as affordable housing for low-income families. The neighborhood was built on top of the Agriculture Street landfill, operational from 1909 to 1957. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified it as a toxic Superfund site in 1994.
In June, after many years, the city decided to set aside mone to buy them out and then to move them.
The New Orleans City Council and Mayor LaToya Cantrell agreed in June to set aside $35 million in bond proceeds to fund a relocation. A portion of the site would be converted into a 5-megawatt solar farm under the plan. Residents have sent a letter to the City Council and mayor’s office with a list of criticisms, and also saw that a third-party appraisal group, ARC Appraisals, sent its own letter citing issues with the appraisal. “At the last meeting… your indication was that the appraisal could be revisited,” Kinlaw said. “That it was not a decision that was coming down from God, but it was something that could be looked at.” City Councilman JP Morrell raised his own concerns with the appraisal process, pointing to the value assigned to Dedmond’s property. “If you take the property itself and move it around the city, there has to be an acknowledgement that any piece of land in this city is more than $28,000,” Morrell said. “If you’re going to buy a house somewhere else, and the land is factored into it, then inevitably you’re going to get less house because you’re buying the land with [more value].” Residents also argued that homes used as reference points are in areas of the city that flood more easily than Gordon Plaza and are elevated. They said it was an oversight for Thorns to not use homes lower to the ground as comparisons since many Gordon Plaza homeowners are elderly. “I can speak for all of the residents of Gordon Plaza. We are over 70 years old, most of us,” Marilyn Amar said. “We’re tired. Enough is enough. We need a better quality of life now.”
There is the rub, a better quality of life. Real estate is location, location, location.
Residents have demanded that the city pay for moving costs as well, and the City Council had approved a fund for it that Morrell said would likely pull from the city’s budget. However, the city administration’s legal team found the structure of the fund would leave them open to lawsuits. According to Morrell, the council’s legal team is working with the mayor’s administration to find a new way to pay for it. Morrell said that if a solution is found, it could be discussed at a City Council meeting on November 29 at 11:30 a.m. The next Gordon Plaza Task Force meeting is scheduled for November 30 at 1:30 p.m.
Their houses are being bought and, up to a degree, their move will be funded. They want more and that may not sit well with their supporters.