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New Orleans' razing craze aims to clear way for post-Katrina recovery

New Orleans is on a mission to raze thousands of properties abandoned after hurricane Katrina. Many are in neighborhoods, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, where poor and minority residents were concentrated.

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Workers cleared the remains of a former apartment complex in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans on Nov. 14. Many homes remain abandoned.

Ann Hermes/Staff

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What hurricane Katrina started nearly seven years ago, the city of New Orleans itself is now in the unenviable position of finishing.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has made razing and cleaning up 40,000 abandoned homes and properties – the biggest such inventory in the nation, besting Detroit – a cornerstone of his administration. His aim: to piece back together the racial and social mosaic that for centuries defined the gritty, buoyant city along the Mississippi River's crescent bend.

The 2010 Census, conducted five years after Katrina, found that 25 percent of New Orleans residential addresses were vacant, and Mr. Landrieu's administration is now moving aggressively to tear down homes that are abandoned or deemed uninhabitable. Last year the city razed 1,589 decrepit buildings, up from 154 two years earlier, in an attempt to clear the way for redevelopment in neighborhoods previously filled (and still partially filled) with poor and minority residents.

So far, Landrieu, who took office in May 2010, is getting an 'A' for effort. Aside from demolitions, the city subsidized construction of 1,038 new homes and 168 renovations in 2011. New Orleans, on the whole, saw home prices rise 11 percent last year.

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