Councilman on a mission

Program deals knockout punch to abandoned homes, crack houses


August 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Councilman Shelley Tastet, with the help of both the parish and Jake’s Towing, has demolished 24 blighted homes in St. Charles Parish. Tastet, who typically loses money each time he knocks down a home, says that helping beautify communities is its own rew
Jonathan Menard
Councilman Shelley Tastet, with the help of both the parish and Jake’s Towing, has demolished 24 blighted homes in St. Charles Parish. Tastet, who typically loses money each time he knocks down a home, says that helping beautify communities is its own rew
For the past year, Councilman Shelley Tastet has been the main cog in a program that has led to the destruction of 24 abandoned homes and trailers, many of which have been used as crack houses.

“Before we knock down a home, I have to look inside to make sure nobody is in there, and a lot of times I see a table and chairs,” Tastet said. “These homes are sealed up so tight, but somehow people are getting in there to smoke crack or whatever else they want to hide.”

The program began last July when Parish President V.J. St. Pierre was trying to find someone to demolish blighted homes in St. Rose. Ernestine Coleman, who serves as president of the St. Rose Taking Action Reclaiming Territory Civic Association, had already gathered a group of community helpers to pick up trash and pull high weeds, but contacted St. Pierre for help in getting several abandoned homes torn down.

That struck a chord with St. Pierre.

“When I was running for office and riding around the parish, I saw a lot of blighted housing,” St. Pierre said. “When I got into office, I wanted to help clean up those properties.
“When you would look into those abandoned homes, several of them had spoons, syringes and other drug paraphernalia.

Knocking down those homes not only takes drugs out of the area, but it changes the attitude of the entire community.”

Still though, house demolition doesn’t come cheap and is something that a lot of residents can’t afford to pay for.
That is, until Tastet got involved.

“I told Mr. St. Pierre that I would knock down the homes at a discounted rate and it took us two days to clear 11 lots,” Tastet said. “You can really tell a difference in that area today and it looks a lot better than it did only a year ago.”

That gesture soon turned into a unique program that Tastet calls “one of the best the parish has to offer.” Since that time, the program has led to the destruction of 13 more homes all over the parish with six more planned in the next two months. St. Pierre said that there are 150 such homes that he would like to have torn down.

“It's just great because so many people work together to make this program successful,” Tastet said.

The parish takes care of the permitting process for the home's destruction, and has even lowered the permit fee from $250 to $100 for homeowners who voluntarily want to tear down a blighted property. Tastet handles the machinery that makes the destruction possible, while Jake's Towing offers Tastet a lower than usual rate to tow away debris and also takes away junk cars for free.

“This is a great program and it allows us to give back to the community,” Clint Jacob, of Jake's Towing, said. “Shelley is a great guy and he really cares about the people of St. Charles Parish. Because of him, we are able to help clean up this parish.”

Because of the help he receives from both the parish and Jake’s, Tastet is able to charge a minimal cost to demolish the homes.

“Ninety-five percent of the homes we have knocked down were ones where the person couldn't afford to have it done themselves,” Tastet said. “Many times, these homes have been abandoned for 10 years and the owner has passed away. That means families have to come up with the money to tear down the home, and a lot of times, that's hard to do.”

Tastet makes it easier by only charging $600 to tear down a home and dispose of the debris. Sometimes, Tastet even does the job for half of that cost. Without the program, Tastet said it would cost residents more than $3,500 to do so.

“Typically, it costs about $100 a hour to tear down a home and that process can last 16 hours,” Tastet said. “That's not even including fuel and transportation cost.”

In fact, Tastet's rate is so cheap that he typically loses money on every job.

“It costs $400 just to move my equipment for one day and $50 for fuel for a day,” he said. “And most of the time these projects last a couple of days.”

And on some occasions, Tastet's equipment gets vandalized.

“When I was doing a home in Hahnville, I left my machine overnight and someone broke the glass on the windshield and put sheet rock in the fuel tank,” he said. “That cost me about $500 to $600.”

But even though he loses money on the actual destruction, Tastet said the program offers him something in return.

“I just feel good after I do it,” he said. “Every time I show up to a site I'm greeted with smiles and everyone always wants to bring me food or take me out to eat.”




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