Push to Pass Ordinance to Fight Blight

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(Memphis)  Many are hoping a proposed ordinance moving through the Memphis City Council will pass, saying it could make a difference in the blight problem the City's been fighting for years.

“Houses where the yards need to be mowed, vacant lots, houses that are boarded-up,” said Emily Trenholm, executive director of the Community Development Council.

Sometimes finding out whom abandoned properties belong to can be almost impossible, “The homeowner is foreclosed on. They move out but the bank doesn`t actually take title to the property.”

“They are bouncing it back and forth and in the meantime, the City of Memphis and the taxpayers of Memphis continue to bear the responsibility of maintaining this property,” said Onzie Horne, the deputy director of Public Works Neighborhood Improvement.

To try and prevent that, some are hoping the City of Memphis creates a “vacant property registry."

The idea being considered by the city council would require all homeowners to register their properties and for those who own vacant ones to pay 200 bucks, which would go towards easing the City's burden.

National Blight Consultant Kermit Lind calls that fee "dirt cheap" saying many vacant properties are owned by banks, “…whose balance sheet every quarter is over 8, 9, 10 billion dollars.  Two hundred bucks? Give me a break.”

Right now, neglected properties are costing Memphis much more than that.

A sample analysis by the City found with just 656 vacant homes, the unpaid property taxes and upkeep cost the City more than $7 million dollars.

Those vacant homes represent just one percent of the number of abandoned properties in Memphis.

“This is a very badly needed ordinance,” said Trenholm.  “It’s going to help us locate property owners and hold the property owners accountable.”

The proposed ordinance will have its final reading in front of the city council April 2 and if it passes it will go into effect immediately.