LA: House Turned Into Rubble Before Appeal

Delores Jones called the city of New Orleans frantically this week when she heard that a demolition crew had arrived at the Central City house she and her husband have owned since the early 1970s.

The 73-year-old woman had in her possession a letter, dated Oct. 1, saying she had 30 working days to challenge a plan to raze her two-story rental house at 2401-03 La Salle St. on the grounds that it was in “imminent danger of collapse.” But Wednesday, just 16 weekdays after the date of the letter, Jones’ house was turned into a pile of rubble by Dynamite Demolition, a city subcontractor.

The property became the latest casualty of confusion and procedural troubles in the city’s demolition program, which has come under heightened scrutiny since a post-Hurricane Gustav executive order temporarily wiped away reviews for certain historic properties targeted for demolition.

There have been several reports of demolition errors recently, and the signs of trouble keep mounting. For example, a list of properties declared in imminent danger of collapse — one step in the demolition approval process — and posted on a city Web site Sept. 29 includes 1720 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. That is the address for the fully renovated Ashe Cultural Arts Center, a main gathering place for Central City residents.

Nagin’s executive order allowed the city for two weeks to bypass the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee and immediately demolish any properties the city administration deemed an imminent health threat, about 170 properties in all

An angry Jones said health problems had prevented her from making headway with her property since Hurricane Katrina. But she said she had recently withdrawn $30,000 from her retirement account and had hired someone to carry out structural repairs to the rental house, which isn’t part of any historic preservation district.

She said that if she had been given the 30 days as promised in the letter, she could have saved the building. “I just wish they could carry out their business with a sense of compassion and realize they’re dealing with people, ” she said

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