Neighborhoods Fighting Blight Through The Courts

(Memphis) “This is a rental that we are turning into code today for a wrecked car,” Lynda Whalen said.

When Whalen hits the streets, it’s not for a leisurely drive.

“See the blue tarp on the roof up there? We have a standing order to maintain on this house,” Whalen said as she pointed out another problem property.

As president of the Burlington Area Neighborhood Association, or BANA, she looks for problem properties in her Southeast Memphis neighborhood and gets action to clean them up.

She took WREG along, pointing out house after house where owners abandoned homes or rented them out and have done nothing to keep them up.

The properties are huge eyesores, and sometimes, health hazards.

When the owner moved out of one house, Whalen says vagrants, drug users, and everything else moved in.

“There are rats on everything. Rats come out of that hole. There is a hole up there,” she said, showing us.

The neighborhood association has been fighting for three years to clean it up.

She took us to another home they spent years trying to clean up.

“There is a notice on this house from the health department that it cannot be occupied,” said Whalen.

The owner left a mess behind that turned into a dumping ground full of water, mold, and trash.

“It’s not fair to the people that live next door to her. It’s not. Not to mention that you can see the declining property values around here. It’s kind of like when one fall, they all start falling. It’s a domino effect,” said Whalen.

It’s hard for long time residents like Whalen who wants to keep her home of 38 years as long as she can.

“This is what my husband and I worked all of our lives for. We are not ready to just throw that away,” she said.

It’s why six years ago, neighborhood associations like BANA realized they were all facing the same problems and joining together to fight for change was a solution.

They formed the Southeast Memphis Neighborhood Partnership.

It’s grown from five neighborhood associations to 29, and those numbers have brought a lot of people to the table.

The regular partnership meeting includes everyone from police, to code enforcement
to the health department and even environmental court to talk about who owns properties and how they can be hauled into court.

It’s empowering neighborhoods, as they learn from one another and from city officials on what’s needed to save their communities.

“You can speak directly to the person, code enforcement person, know that person and hold that person responsible for getting answers for you,” said Robert Robinson of the Fox Meadows neighborhood.

Now these neighborhoods have another tool to hold property owners accountable – theĀ  Neighborhood Preservation Act, a law letting them sue owners who refuse to follow citations and get their property in shape.

“It’s one of the few tools neighborhoods have to help fight shadow inventory, absentee investors, even homeowners,” said Whalen.

The City of Memphis is helping neighborhoods in the fight, paying the cost to file some of the lawsuits and taking some property owners to court.

For those watching families move out and trouble move in, it’s a last chance.

“People laugh when I say it but I really do believe neighborhoods are becoming an endangered species. I really do,” said Whalen.

It’s not a species she and other neighbors are willing to give up on.

They are hoping to bring even more neighborhoods into their partnership and community-by-community get rid of the blight that’s bringing so many down.

For information on joining the Southeast Memphis Neighborhood Partnership, call 901-634-7646.

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