Lafayette has unlocked hundreds of adjudicated properties. But hundreds more remain. 

Lafayette's Habitat for Humanity is building a pair of new, single-family homes on previously adjudicated properties on the 100 block of LaSalle Street in the La Place neighborhood just north of downtown. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Abandoned properties have piled up on LaSalle Street in Lafayette’s La Place neighborhood for years, causing blight and prompting demolitions. Nine of the 13 lots in the 100 block of LaSalle have been have been or are currently adjudicated, a class of tax delinquency unique to Louisiana that leaves properties virtually untouchable for years. 

But a novel effort from Habitat for Humanity and Lafayette Consolidated Government is bringing new life to the block just north of Downtown, showcasing one path to returning the parish’s mountain of adjudicated properties back to commerce.

Lafayette’s efforts to deal with adjudicated properties has seen slow but steady progress since adjudications peaked at 1,560 properties in July 2019. In the years since, LCG has brought hundreds of properties out of adjudication, either by selling them to neighbors or donating them to nonprofits, like Habitat, under a process established in 2018. 

Habitat has used that process to acquire roughly 20 adjudicated properties in Lafayette to build new housing for lower-income families, including two lots on LaSalle Street where a pair of single-family homes are under construction. 

“We’ve got 10 houses under construction right now, and of those, I want to say … we purchased four … and the rest are all adjudicated properties,” says Lafayette Habitat Executive Director Melinda Taylor.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking, really, that what should have been generational wealth for a family is [gone],” she adds. “We’re going to help somebody else, we hope, create that. But what could have been is still kind of haunting.”

Even with that progress, the parish still inventoried nearly 1,200 adjudicated properties as of May, most of which are on Lafayette’s Northside, an area that’s struggled with disinvestment. And dozens more could be added this summer. 

New adjudications pile up every June, when properties with delinquent tax bills are sold at public auction by the sheriff’s office. Those that don’t sell become adjudicated, pulling them out of commerce and putting them under LCG’s supervision, typically for years while unpaid taxes, fines and interest add up, sometimes exceeding the properties’ actual values. 

Meanwhile, state law makes LCG powerless to offload the properties to new owners until they have been adjudicated for at least three years and makes them unappealingly difficult to transfer to new owners until at least five years have passed. 

During the three-year redemptive period, the properties cannot be taken from their rightful owners, even if the tax lien is paid off by someone else, says LCG’s sole employee handling adjudications, planner Kirk Trahan.

“It’s a popular misconception that people think simply paying the property taxes gives them access to the deed. That’s not the case,” Trahan says. 

Construction workers turn dirt on a formerly adjudicated property

Bit by bit, LCG is tackling a frustrating and costly problem that has festered for decades. With well over 1,000 adjudicated properties on the rolls at any one time, there’s a long way to go. And for those who live next to the properties, resolution can’t come fast enough.

That waiting period causes adjudications to pile up. An analysis by The Current found that as of May, 17% of the 1,185 adjudicated properties in Lafayette Parish were still within the three-year redemptive period, preventing anyone but their original owners from taking control of them. 

Another 12% have been adjudicated for more than three years but less than five, meaning any potential buyers must give the original owners a six-month window to redeem their property. After that, the window is slashed to 60 days. 

The expense and risk of that last-chance window add up, since buyers have to spend thousands of dollars on recording fees, attorney bills and public notices costs, which incentivizes them to wait until a property qualifies for the 60-day window, leaving the neglected lots to pile up for years.

But the majority of Lafayette’s nearly 1,200 adjudicated properties are well past their restrictive windows, making them significantly easier for potential buyers to pursue. It’s an opportunity that is starting to see some attention, Taylor says, particularly as rising home prices in Lafayette exacerbate the need for affordable housing locally.

“People are going after them, not just Habitat,” Taylor says. “Some private developers have begun to identify and apply for some of these properties.”

Because pulling properties out of adjudication is so difficult, preventing adjudications in the first place should be front of mind, says LCG Planning Manager Cathie Gilbert, particularly for families that have a homeowner who dies without an established will. That leaves the property without a homestead exemption and with its tax responsibility unsettled, which is a common cause of adjudication. 

“That’s why it is really so crucial for us to work with these neighborhoods because on the front end they need to understand that they need to get some help, some legal aid, and do a proper will when they pass property from one generation to another,” Gilbert says.

Correction: A previous version of this report misstated the number of lots that have been adjudicated on LaSalle Street. We regret the error.