Millions spent to clean up blighted properties


Mayor A C Wharton is fed up with blight and his administration is going after the people responsible.

"They're not living here, they're living away somewhere else and that's who we're coming after," the mayor said. "No matter where they are. They can run but they can't hide."

There are more than 80,000 abandoned properties in the city of Memphis and many of those are owned by corporations or individuals that don't live in the Bluff City or even in Tennessee. Mr. Wharton says they don't maintain the property, costing the city millions of dollars a year.

Memphis will spend $7 million to fight blight this year, and in many cases city taxpayers are footing the bill to clean up properties owned by corporations who have neglected them.

One lot in Memphis has been abandoned for years and when the weeds get overgrown neighbors call the city to complain. This is the second time this crew has cut the property this year, which is owned by a corporation in Texas, but the owners don't take care of the land.

The city contacts them every year warning them to take care of the land. But the notices are ignored. This happens all over the city and the delinquent owners, whether they're corporations or individuals they're located all over the country.

"When you're living out in (Los Angeles) or down in Florida somewhere, living off the fat of the land what do you care about how scummy up there in Memphis, Tenn.," the mayor questioned.

MORE: Doing double the good fighting blight
MORE: Fighting the blight in Memphis

FOX13 News sat down with Mayor Wharton to talk about the problem and ways the city can fix it. The city attorney's office stays busy dealing with these abandoned properties. In the State of Tennessee it's tough to take the land. It's a three-year process for the city to go to court to get control of an abandoned house.

"We are almost helpless in terms of being able to move as expeditiously as we would like to move," Mayor Wharton said.

The abandoned Executive Inn near the airport is another example of an out of state owned property that's been left to rot. It's owned by a Florida-based corporation, and the city has battled them in court.

Mayor Wharton said many of these out of town owners are abusing laws meant to help keep people in their homes.

"They're not down on their luck, they're not ill, they're not unemployed, they just know how to game the system," he said.

It's a shell game, the mayor added. "When the city gets close to seizing a property, the owners declare bankruptcy and the city starts the process again.

It's a costly, time consuming process and it's the neighbors who live among the abandoned lots and decaying homes who pay the price.

Mayor Wharton said his administration won't give up the fight.

"For those who for no good reason have decided that they're going to prey on the good citizens of the city of Memphis, who go out cut their own yards, clean up their own grass, that for those of you who just decided that I can get away with it, that day is coming to an end."

This year city council passed a vacant property registry that will make it easier for the city to track who owns the abandoned buildings and land. There's also a council effort to launch a new program to hand city owned properties over to people and organizations that will take care of them.

This is a significant issue but the mayor said the city is working on it. Mr. Wharton and others don't want Memphis to become overwhelmed by blight.
FOX13 News has asked the city for a list of the worst offenders, the people and corporations with abandoned property all over the city.

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