New program puts Lafayette community in charge of adjudicated properties

McComb-Veazey Coterie Chair Tina Shelvin Bingham stands outside the previously adjudicated property that is now the coterie's Community House on 12th Street. The coterie is taking over 19 adjudicated properties in a new, community-focused pilot program with Lafayette Consolidated Government to spur redevelopment on the neglected lots. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Offloading the parish’s slate of more than 1,200 adjudicated properties has been an uphill battle for Lafayette Consolidated Government, particularly because of prescribed limits on how quickly the properties can be turned over to new owners. 

But Lafayette is looking to a new idea: putting communities in charge. A pilot program with the McComb-Veazey Coterie will hand over a batch of neglected properties to the neighborhood for redevelopment, allowing the nonprofit to serve as localized redevelopment authority.

Adjudications are concentrated on Lafayette’s Northside, where they have compounded with decades of disinvestment, adding to blight in residential areas. As of September, LCG counted 1,270 adjudicated properties around the parish, and roughly 750 of those are south of I-10 and east of University Avenue. The McComb-Veazey neighborhood is no exception, as adjudication has made hundreds of properties there effectively unmarketable for redevelopment.

More than 1,200 properties are adjudicated in Lafayette Parish and hundreds of them are concentrated on Lafayette’s Northside, including in the McComb-Veazey neighborhood, where a new plan is underway to give the community control of the properties’ fates.

To that end, Lafayette’s City Council voted in August to donate 19 adjudicated properties to the nonprofit neighborhood coterie and grant it up to $100,000 to pay for the costly legal, recording and public notice fees that make adjudicated properties so challenging to return to commerce. The goal is to give the coterie the tools it needs to make those properties marketable while giving the community control over how they’re developed.

“This process, because it’s community driven, has the community’s voice at the heart of what we’re doing and making sure that we’re not negatively impacting the community as well,” says McComb-Veazey Coterie Chair Tina Shelvin Bingham. 

Getting adjudicated properties back onto the market is an expensive, time-consuming process. State law prohibits local governments from transferring properties to new owners for at least three years after they have been adjudicated, typically through unpaid fines or taxes. The process remains costly and burdensome until five years have passed because of notice requirements, effectively incentivizing years of neglect. 

But, as Bingham points out, the McComb-Veazey Coterie has experience dealing with the cumbersome path to reviving adjudications. 

“Our community house is a formerly adjudicated property. Our pocket park on 14th and Magnolia [streets] is a formerly adjudicated property. All of those have been turned into some kind of community benefit, and that’s really what we’re seeking to do. It’s to be able to bring these back into commerce,” she says. 

Even with the coterie’s past success, the idea of offloading so many adjudicated properties to a single group at one time is new for LCG. Planning Manager Cathie Gilbert says the pilot program presents a “learning curve for all of us” but could offer a path for other Lafayette communities to take charge of adjudicated properties in their own neighborhoods. 

“We have a very reactive adjudicated property process, and this is trying to be a little bit more strategic in that effort,” says Gilbert. “So it’s kind of a pilot. And hopefully it’s successful, and then we can have some successes in our other urban core neighborhoods that are equally burdened by the amount of adjudicated properties.”

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Nineteen properties is far more than any single group typically takes on from LCG at one time, largely because of the cost of obtaining a clear title to each property, which can approach several thousand dollars even in the most straightforward circumstances.  LCG’s $100,000 commitment to the pilot program stands to make a dent in that cost for the coterie, but Bingham says it likely won’t be enough to get every parcel back into commerce.

“One hundred thousand dollars is probably not going to be enough to help us clear all of the titles on the properties,” she says. “So we’re actively looking for new other funding fiscal resources to help us make sure we can bring that to bear and some well-meaning attorneys who like to do some pro bono work.”

Funding will be a central question to the coterie’s ultimate vision for the program, which Bingham says is to create a sustainable operation that can become a long-term solution to the neighborhood’s concentration of adjudicated properties. 

“We don’t want this to be a one and done program. We don’t want it to just be going away after we do it one time,” says Bingham. “We want to make it sustainable. Something that has value, and that the community can really come to, to be able to help work with some of those troubled properties.”