BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For over 20 years, John Robertson has been investing in his neighborhood, not knowing that one day, he'd get a break.
"I was just doing this. It was just like an exercise to me because I have sugar. All this is my workout," said Robertson.
Robertson says one month after moving onto Ellwood Dr., he noticed the overgrown lot next door wasn't getting any attention, so he started mowing it. "Every week, every Friday I'm out here cutting grass," he said.
Soon, that overgrown space turned into a well-manicured lot, but Robertson was doing all this work on someone else's property. That's where the city's Mow to Own program steps in. Homeowners that live next to adjudicated or blighted properties have the chance to buy that property for next to nothing, once they show proof they've been keeping it clean for at least a year.
"Whenever a property sits vacant, abandoned, overgrown, it declines the value of the whole area. So when we're able to put those properties back into commerce or good use and transfer those into the hands of the people next door who care about it most, cause it's next door to them, that's when we're successful," said Councilwoman Tara Wicker.
Wicker authored the ordinance a little over a year ago. She says only adjudicated properties are included in the program and the Civic Source Program identifies which properties those are. "A lot of times, people have been living next to an adjudicated or blighted property and they never even know there's an opportunity for that property to become theirs if they've been maintaining it," she said.
Once a property is identified, Wicker says the original owner is given notice that the property is up for sale. After a year, the person next door, maintaining the property, gets the first right to bid any amount they choose on the lot.
"It streamlines the process. It makes it much easier for us, from a city council level, to have those properties put back into commerce," said Wicker. "We have the ability to sell that property directly to them and they can actually offer a bid to us and then as long as the advertising costs are settled and taken care of, then they can get the property for very minimal amounts," she said.
Wicker also says several lots are already headed down the pipeline of transfer of ownership and her hope is that more people want to see that change and become part of the program.
We're told if the original land owner decides to keep the property, they would have to pay for improvements and liens that were associated with the property.