Greater Memphians whose daily commutes rarely take them off the interstate and through Memphis’ inner-city neighborhoods can be forgiven for not truly realizing the devastating impact blight has on a neighborhood.
It emboldens criminals, discourages the kind of investment that attracts jobs, fosters intractable poverty, erodes property values and sustains the adverse childhood experiences that negatively affect the brain of development young children.
It impacts the rest of us because blight results in millions of dollars being taken off tax rolls. That is money that possibly could be used to pump more funding into schools, improve basic government services or maybe reduce property taxes.
However, the seemingly intractable blight problem is being attacked with a welcome coordinated and collaborative urgency that, if successful, will be a boon for the entire community.
Lawyer Steve Barlow of Neighborhood Preservation Inc., summed up the effort last week with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board, saying the effort “will break silos and collaborate to achieve synergy in response to a crisis of vacant and abandoned real estate.”
He said that for decades, blight has been a “slow-motion train wreck” eroding the fabric of the inner city.
That is not an exaggeration. Huge swaths of inner-city Memphis are wastelands of abandoned, crumbling homes and derelict apartment complexes. People are living in homes and apartments that are unfit for human habitation.
Blight has taken a heavy toll in Frayser and Hickory Hill, and is beginning to eat into the fabric of areas like Raleigh and Parkway Village.
In March, Memphis and Shelby County’s civic, business, government and grass-roots leaders united in a coordinated campaign to clean up blighted properties that diminish the quality of life in neighborhoods.
The Blight Elimination Summit resulted in the completion of the Memphis Blight Elimination Charter and a commitment from all of the stakeholders to work together to implement its action plan.
The resulting blight elimination task force is attacking the problem on four fronts:
Reclaiming and reusing blighted and abandoned properties.
Tougher and better coordinated code enforcement efforts on the part of several agencies, including cracking down on slumlords.
Understanding the data side of blight, including compiling, updating and broadly using the best available data to accurately document, measure and track trends about the different types of blighted properties in Memphis and Shelby County.
Broader community engagement in the fight against blight by making neighborhood residents, businesses and community groups essential partners in the effort. That engagement will include an online and print directory of all known programs and resources for addressing the different types of blighted properties in Memphis, along with a list of recommended actions that volunteers can take on their own.
Task force members visited the editorial board last week for an update on what is being done, including specific deadlines for certain goals. It is ambitious schedule, but one that should produce measurable results if the deadlines can be met.
The task force will be helped, we think, by a new awareness of the toll blight takes on the city’s quality of life as a result of the living-conditions scandal at the Global Ministry Foundation-owned Tulane and Warren apartments. That has moved the city, state and federal governments working together to crack down on derelict landlords.
The Blight Elimination Charter, we hope, will expand that unified effort.