By Linda Moore
There are 13,000 structures and vacant lots in Memphis that qualify as blighted, according to an estimate by local anti-blight advocacy group Neighborhood Preservation Inc.
Among them are thousands abandoned houses that become havens for criminals as well as multistory apartment buildings where children sometimes play.
Thursday marked a new era in blight eradication with the official unveiling of the Memphis Neighborhood Blight Elimination Charter, a document that will serve as a guide for greater Memphis in the ongoing fight to purge the city blight.
Dozens of public, private, civic and business leaders contributed to its creation, work that was coordinated by NPI and its leader Steve Barlow and lauded during Thursday’s Memphis Blight Elimination Summit.
The charter’s vision statement notes that “Every neighborhood in Memphis and in Shelby County has the right to be free from the negative impacts and influences caused by vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties.”
There is a human factor to blight, said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, the keynote speaker at the summit.
“These people deserve to live in a clean, safe neighborhood,” Strickland said. “That’s why the work is so important to all of us.”
Even with the charter in place and the collaborated efforts underway, the widespread growth of blight took time and clearing the city of blight will take time as well.
“It takes unified work, measuring results and holding people accountable,” Strickland said. “And it’s going to take years to succeed.”
Blighted properties cost communities money in uncollected taxes and depressed property values for occupied properties nearby, said county trustee David Lenoir.
A Cleveland, Ohio study estimated the decrease in property value at about 10 percent for occupied properties within 5,000 feet of blighted ones.
Most of the 4,500 properties in the Shelby County Land Bank are in Memphis, said county Mayor Mark Luttrell, who realized during his time as county sheriff that blight impacts every aspect of life for those who live nearby.
Shelby County government will commit as part of the fiscal 2017 budget an additional $1 million toward blight elimination, Luttrell said.
The coordinators of the blight elimination charter were assisted by national experts Kermit Lind, clinical professor of law emeritus at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University and Joe Schilling, senior research associate with the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.
Memphis, they said, is among those cities leading the nation in its coordinated effort to fight blight.
The summit included breakout sessions with environmental court Judge Larry Potter, Memphis City Beautiful executive director Eldra White, Memphis code enforcement officials and on the city’s nonprofit land bank.
Going forward, the charter has set up the framework and a Blight Elimination Coordinating Team has already begun to develop and execute an action plan, Barlow said.
Although there is the charter, the coordinating team and the committed will of political leaders, government can’t do it all, he said.
Citizens, neighborhood groups and businesses must do their part to turn around their own communities.
“It’s not just that the government won’t. It can’t possibly fix this. It’s huge,” Barlow said. “It’s just too big of a problem for any one entity, any one government, any one anyone to fix.”