Fighting Blight One Ordinance at a Time

Fighting Blight One Ordinance at a Time

Seven million bucks-- that's how much just 600 abandoned properties costs the City of Memphis in upkeep and taxes.
MEMPHIS, TN ( - 600 abandoned properties cost the City of Memphis $7 million in upkeep and taxes. And there are a lot more than that to deal with.

That’s why Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. is pushing an ordinance calling for all homeowners to register their properties.

He described the condition of thousands of abandoned properties in Memphis as "egregious," saying something had to be done, because all that blight is unfair to homeowners who maintain their properties and pay their taxes.

“We have a tremendous problem with abandoned properties,” said Steve Lockwood, Executive Director of the Frayser Community Development Corporation. “We simply can’t find who is responsible for them.”

According to Councilman Ford, “We have about 43,000 questionable properties.”

Those blighted properties, for which no one accepts responsibility, cost the city more than $200 million.

At a community meeting on Monday, March 25, Ford proposed an ordinance calling for all property owners to register their homes, explaining it would come with the tax bill.

“There will be something on the back of the paper stating you are the owner of the property,” Ford told, “you do a quick check mark and that’s it.”

Contrary to what some believe, it won’t cost you. “That’s the myth right now,” said Ford, “it’s not a fee.”

But, there is a $200 fee for owners who register vacant properties.

Lockwood noted, “The only people it goes after are owners of blighted, neglected properties that have not paid their taxes.”

“A $200 fee is extremely miniscule,” Ford added.

Banks also seem to have major problems; homeowners move out, but the banks don’t take title, making it hard to know who owns the property.

“I think there’s a lot of phantom inventory that does fall on the banks,” Lockwood said. “There is a bank of record, but when you contact them there’s no department that will take responsibility.”

And that’s just one factor creating the need for the registry. Ford said, “There is not an accurate account of those who own particular properties that are blighted or vacant.”

Ford knows some people may not like the registration, but Lockwood said many organizations, like the Memphis Association of Realtors, support it.

“We have had an incredible increase in blighted and abandoned properties,” said Lockwood, “and every tool we can put in place to mitigate that, we need to experiment with.”

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Ford said.

Ford believes doing nothing would be the same as saying the city is okay with all the blight. He also believes that eliminating it would indirectly help lower crime rates.

A final reading of the ordinance takes place at the April 2nd Memphis City Council meeting.
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