MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Experts agree: There is not enough quality, affordable housing in Memphis.

The WREG Problem Solvers have covered issues all over the city where renters tell us they’re frustrated.

“I would just love to have a maintenance man when I need it,” said Gloria Cochran at the Garden View apartments.

“You wouldn’t like to live in nothing like this,” said another woman at the Highland Hills apartments in Fox Meadows.

The conditions at some complexes get so bad, city code enforcement gives them citations. They end up in court. Mayor Jim Strickland spoke with WREG Live at 9 about Peppertree Apartments.

“We have cited them in environmental court on dozens, if not hundreds of charges,” he said.

Many complexes are owned by LLCs.

In a recent Problem Solvers investigation, we tracked down two of those owners living in New York. They were getting Memphis tax breaks to improve conditions. At the same time, MLGW records showed they didn’t pay their utility bills and services for tenants got cut off.

“We still have to suffer because the complex is not doing their part,” one tenant said.

The WREG Problem Solvers wanted to know why this continuously happens.

Roshun Austin, president of The Works, believes she has some answers. The Works is a nonprofit community development corporation that builds affordable housing.

“There probably could be more done with a rental registry,” she said.

The idea of a rental registry has been around for years; WREG covered it back in 2018.

The registry would require owners to register with the city for a fee. They’d have to provide a local contact.

“It’s not some LLC from New York or Japan that’s responsible. You can’t do anything to an LLC. We’re not sending code officers to Japan,” Austin said.

There’s one other very big thing she said will solve this problem: more money.

Austin is focused on Community Development Block Grants from the federal government. That’s money for cities to use for issues related to affordable housing.

Strickland’s administration is also focusing on the grants, despite a very visible issue: homes that have been knocked down and now are empty lots with “stairs to nowhere.”

“The powers that be thought that was the best decision,” Memphis Director of Housing and Community Development Ashley Cash said.

She said she wished she could change that decision since knocking down thousands of homes and apartments drastically hurt the overall supply of affordable housing in the city.

“There was no re-investment in the infrastructure so developers could not make the deals work in the inner city so those places were not replaced,” Austin said.

The federal government uses the age of total housing as part of its formula for determining how much funding a city will get in community development block grants. When Memphis knocked down homes and apartments, it lost a large quantity of older housing to contribute to the formula.

“Our funding is based on population and the amount of pre-1940s housing stock you have,” Cash said. “We have demolished a lot of those older homes. Our need has increased but the change in how we receive those funds has not kept up.”

Not to mention, experts say it’s hard to get a clear picture because of how large the city is.

“We spread out poverty across 300-plus square miles and the formula says it’s density and census tracts that get you federal entitlement funds to help subsidize,” Austin said.

In 2020, Memphis got around $7 million dollars from the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development, Strickland said. Officials compared that with Detroit, which got more than $35 million.

That’s why they’re pushing for a change in federal law.

“Every year we go to the state and D.C. to make sure it’s top of mind, it’s on the agenda,” Cash said.

Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) and David Kustoff (R-Memphis) both support the efforts, she said.

“This is not a Republican issue. this is not a Democrat issue,” Kustoff told WREG. “When you look at the true city populations of Memphis versus Detroit, that’s a tremendous disparity.”

Kustoff has introduced the CDBG Modernization Act to establish a new entitlement formula for these funds.

He anticipated opposition from representatives of areas that have lost population, particularly in Northern and Rust Belt cities.

“In the end were talking about taxpayer dollars and taxpayer dollars should accurately flow to where the population is,” Kustoff said.

Cohen said a HUD report on the formula change should be ready by the end of the year. He said the formula change would happen.

“I think it’s a very good likelihood,” he told WREG.

Got a problem? Contact WREG Problem Solver Stacy Jacobson at 901-543-2334 or stacy.jacobson@wreg.com