• Fighting the blight in Memphis


    Abandoned buildings, boarded-up homes, overgrown lots are all scars on Memphis' landscape. According to the latest count there are more than 80,000 abandoned properties in the city.

    They're a drain on neighborhoods, havens for crime, and anchor on property values.
    But the Bluff City has a plan and city leaders say they're seeing results. Instead of jumping from one complaint call to the next, officials are tackling the problem one block at a time.

    If they haven't made it to your street yet, Mayor A C Wharton said city crews are on the way.

    "We know how many crews are in these areas, how many contractors we've got deployed," said a public works employee.

    A nerve center in the city's fight against blight is a map-laden conference room in the public works building. It's a data driven approach where city workers break Memphis into 25-square block sectors and assign contract crews to clear the problem properties.  

    "No longer do we go into a neighborhood and answer one complaint and leave that neighborhood, go across town and answer another one, go haphazardly jumping around the city," said Johnny Harper, manager of the 25 Square Program.

    Managers dispatched a crew to a vacant lot after a church across the street complained about the overgrown weed. Lifeline to Success is one of the city's 18 anti-blight contractors, its crew is made up of felons re-entering the workforce.

    "There's lots of land out here that are blighted and people can do things with it," said William Hence, Lifeline to Success. "We make it look presentable. Half of these lots got for sale signs in there looking like this, they'll never get to sell them. So I think we clean the neighborhood up and we actually raise the value of it sometimes."

    City crews concentrate on the worst areas. They have been cleaning an illegal dumping site, clearing the brush around the road and pulling out the junk that people left behind.

    "The goal when we get out to the project is to show the citizens we're re-beautifying the neighborhoods we go in," said Terence Nickelberry, manger Memphis Division of Public Works. "We try to bring them back to life to make them look like they used to look."

    In 2013 the city has increased the number of blighted properties it's cleaning up by 500 percent. There's a $7 million budget for blight mitigation. Mayor Wharton said the city can't let the situation get out of control.

    "These lots they're cancerous and they metastasize," the mayor said. "They're not localized and so we could just kind of hang tough and say we ain't doing nothing about it. That's a private owner. But that's like cutting your nose off to spite your face."

    Mayor Wharton said this is an issue that effects everyone in Memphis.

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