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Who's Buying New Orleans


Was Hurricane Katrina a curse or a blessing? Was it the death of an American cultural icon or a clean slate to reinvent itself?  Rebuild or restore?  Or, to use a metaphor based on the New Orleans passion for food, "whose gumbo's best?"


While there was no objective way to settle the gumbo debate, we thought that there should be a way to objectively determine which approach, rebuild or restore, held sway. Who was buying property in New Orleans and what did they intend to do with it? Property records should give a clear picture of who bought and who sold land and whether it was, as many residents suspected, being gobbled up by speculators to turn the city into Las Vegas with a Creole flavor.


As with most things in The Big Easy, it's never as easy as it seems.







There were suspicions that the rebuilding of New Orleans would be an attempt to "gentrify" the city, especially, those neighborhoods that were the poorest and also among the most devastated. The Ninth ward fit that profile. Mayor Ray Nagin appointed a commission to determine what would be the best way to bring the city back.


The plan would turn the hardest hit sections into "green zones." Many New Orleans residents viewed the report as a naked land grab by the wealthy to make the city even more attractive to tourists and a bonanza for developers. While the report was shelved, the impression continued that speculators were buying up large sections of the city. The end result would be a drastic reduction in poor residents which by extension meant, blacks.


We began an investigation into just "Who's Buying New Orleans?" While the city is still dubbed "The Big Easy," finding reliable data is far from it. Real estate transactions are stored in three different databases. One is for mortgages and the other is called conveyance, which is cash and other nonmortgage title transfers.


The data were obtained from the Orleans Parish Civil District Court's Conveyance Office, covering Aug. 29, 2005, through October 2008.


Though these databases are public records, access is either by an in-person search at the Civil Court Clerk's office or by online subscription. The subscription is intended to search by individual filings rather than having access to the entire database for analysis. We had to write a computer program that simulated a search for each transaction. The process took weeks. The database has known inconsistencies in the spelling and naming of individuals, businesses and government agencies. Thus, the numbers represent estimates of the number of transactions involving specific buyers and might not include every transaction of any buyer.


After downloading the data, the first step was to analyze the conveyance data. Because there were thousands of transactions, we focused on the top 10. (see graph) The biggest purchaser of property in New Orleans is The Road Home Corporation. This is the agency set up to facilitate grants and other assistances to homeowners who wanted to rebuild. It also purchased property from those homeowners who did not want to return to New Orleans. It held title to more than 3,500 homes. The City of New Orleans owned nearly 300 properties and New Orleans Redevelopment Authority owned more than 100 properties.


Two other listings among the top 10 were anomalies. Avenue Plaza L.L.C and Quarter House (listed as Chad Newbold) are condominium and time share resorts. Each of the units in the complex gets listed as separate transactions even though the units all have the same address and the land was already developed prior to the hurricane.



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A Bring New Orleans Back Meeting.


What are your experiences in dealing with the Unified New Orleans planning process?


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New Orleans East, along the northern coast of the city next to Lake Pontchartrain, is where many children of Lower Ninth Ward residents went to live when they grew up.  It was the last part of New Orleans to be developed – and one of the first to come back..


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