Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I just sent to my City Council Representative, Stacy Head, addressing three problems in my neighborhood:
There is a small grocery at the corner of Lopez and Bienville which has not been touched since the storm. It is overrun by large rats and is an immediate threat to public health, with families living next door. I’ve alerted Claudia Riegel of the Termite and Mosquito Control Board, and they’ve set traps in the area, but they can’t go in the building. I believe they alerted the health department. I just wanted to make you aware of the situation which I believe needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.
Garbage and debris continues to be a problem. On the 3100 block of Iberville, for example, residents were piling household garbage on the sidewalk without bagging it. The pile became quite large and of course Waste Management wouldn’t pick it up. Finally the garbage was separated from larger debris and properly bagged. The result is two large piles of garbage which continue to be a nuisance and a health hazard.
The garbage is not picked up by WM because it is not in front of a residence but a vacant lot. A resident (Gwen Jones) has called various city officials over the past week and has gotten repeated assurances that the problem will be addressed, but so far, it has not. I called the city myself today; they took the information from me and gave me a tracking number (67900) so we hope this will be dealt with now. I hasten to emphasize that this story is repeated on many of the surrounding side streets. Again, we just wanted to make you aware of the situation. WM’s regular Thursday pickup of household garbage (properly bagged) has improved a great deal over the last few weeks.
Finally, the most difficult problem of all: absentee landlords. Roughly 50% of the properties in my immediate area of Mid-City are standing vacant, most having been gutted but not currently habitable. However, a number of landlords have fixed up their places. Unfortunately most of these rental units have been repaired “off the books,” without permits, without inspections, and as a result are somewhat below the standard of habitability. Nevertheless they are being rented out at double the pre-Katrina rate. Directly across the street from me tenants have been living without electricity for weeks. Around the corner a family is living without gas and therefore without hot water. It seems clear to me that these landlords are taking advantage of a very vulnerable population: mostly these are the working poor, many of them are Spanish-speaking and some may be here illegally. It is not realistic to expect these tenants to take legal action against their landlords. I don’t wish to make the situation worse for my neighbors, but I also don’t wish to live in a slum zone. How can we hold these landlords to a higher standard?