Almost unknown in the U.S., the ancient Roman legal concept of usufruct might help save New Orleans, The Los Angeles Times reports.
"You are not going to rebuild New Orleans unless you are able to get government access to private property," Mtumishi St. Julien, a longtime community advocate and housing advisor to Mayor C. Ray Nagin, told the paper. "If government does not solve that problem, everything else is just talk. It is foolish to believe otherwise."
As this backgrounder discusses, usufruct involves the ability to use, invest in and profit from property belonging to another. The holder of a usufruct right must return the property to the owner in at least as good condition as it was initially. And the usufruct right can be used to get a mortgage. A potential drawback: the usufruct right can also be bought and sold.
Still, this is a novel way of thinking about rebuilding the city, and would give the New Orleans government some important control over the future of the city. The key question: how to involve the current owners and, most importantly, the mass of city people who had no ownership right whatsoever. Tenants have a stake in the city, too, and must be involved in all decisions involving neighborhoods.
Memo to community organizations active in New Orleans: now's the time to speak up and organize for real.
note: without the University of Pittsburgh's Jurist clippings service, I probably wouldn't have found this story.