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VOL. 125 | NO. 32 | Wednesday, February 17, 2010

UofM-Area Residents Work to Salvage 38111

LINDA RAITERI | Special to The Daily News

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For Tk Buchanan, community development specialist for the University of Memphis Center for Community Building and Neighborhood Action (CBANA), the 587 foreclosures last year in the 38111 ZIP code are more than a statistic.

Sherwood Forest in the 38111 area is where she grew up and returned in 2001.

From her front window, Buchanan can see five of the 54 vacant houses in her neighborhood of 1,178 properties. And she knows the story behind each one.

“My flagship situation is a house I can see from my house. It’s been vacant since 1993, when the owner, Mrs. Wagner, died,” Buchanan said. “It needs to be demolished.”

Another empty house is in foreclosure. That owner disappeared when he started getting foreclosure notices from the lending company that induced him to consolidate his bills and borrow money for a new truck, she recalled.

But foreclosure isn’t the only reason for the vacancies in this post-World War II neighborhood of modest homes and towering trees. Of the 54 vacant houses, half are empty because of probate problems.

Turning things around

Reduced market values caused by these vacancies may be a boon for rental management firms and so-called property flippers, but Buchanan said that’s not what she and her neighbors hope for.

The Cooper Young Development Association, assigned to work with the Sherwood Forest neighborhood, will be looking at chronically vacant homes to buy and renovate in a value-added manner.

“The investors we are looking for will be willing to invest in the community, not just to make money by cosmetic repairs and to flip the property,” she said.

Nationally, third quarter 2009 figures revealed that 4.5 million homes had fallen below 75 percent of their mortgage balances, and projections for the future are bleak. An estimated 5.1 million – 10 percent of all Americans with mortgages – could find themselves in that predicament by June.

Steve Barlow of Brewer and Barlow PLC, the local law firm handling the city of Memphis’ lawsuit against Wells Fargo Bank, said empty, abandoned or neglected houses can affect the market value of even the best-kept homes in a neighborhood. They can become public nuisances and havens for crime.

Vacancies can also affect homeowners’ insurance, said D. Christopher Garrett, director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

When property-damage claims from vandalism, fire and general neglect increase, so do the costs of insurance. The increase applies not just to adjacent homes, but to the whole neighborhood.

Coalition-building

To address the issues of increasing vacancies, probate problems and potential foreclosures in the 38111, the Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association, CBANA and Sherwood Forest resident and Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell recently organized a free morning of counseling and legal aid at Prescott Baptist Church.

Helping keep people in their homes, facilitating a smooth transition to ownership and maintaining viable neighborhoods has become increasingly critical as economic conditions have worsened locally and nationally.

Real estate information company Chandler Reports has reported a 14 percent decline from last January in Shelby County housing sales, and the University of Tennessee has projected in it’s annual report on the state’s economy that unemployment will remain above 10 percent through 2011.

Law students Sally Joyner and Latonnsya Burney helped a young couple with three children make a will during the recent event.

First the couple filled out financial forms to establish their eligibility for Memphis Area Legal Services aid. Then Joyner and Burney guided them through a series of questions that will be used as the basis for writing, and later executing, their will.

Altogether, 17 law students and seven attorneys helped out during the event. MALS counseled about 25 people.

“One of today’s clients came in with a specific legal question,” said Donna Harkness, professor of clinical law and director of the elder law clinic at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, “and through that conversation a number of other problems were revealed. Consumer issues. A nearby vacant lot. Health issues. Directives.”

Stability equals continuity

A number of Sherwood Forest residents are the original owners of their homes. They talk about the days when the streets were filled with kids playing ball or Red Rover.

Billie Martin sold her home and moved to a retirement community after her husband’s death. But she still drives through the old neighborhood a couple of times a month, “just to see how it’s doing.”

The new owner has given her permission to pick camellias from her former garden.

One simple way to speed up the disposition of a property, especially when the children have no interest in living in the parents’ house, is to direct in a will that the house be sold and the proceeds divided among the beneficiaries, said Harkness.

Free legal clinics are held on Saturdays at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, and can help guide clients to the appropriate resources as well as provide services.

“Establishing power of attorney and writing a will are two essentials for ensuring the protection of your property,” said Linda Warren Seely, director of pro bono projects at MALS.

“From the viewpoint of the Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association,” Seely said, “it’s part of a neighborhood stabilization process.”

Chandler Reports is a division of The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 119 482 10,051
MORTGAGES 119 497 11,811
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 29 82 1,716
BUILDING PERMITS 268 1,056 21,366
BANKRUPTCIES 50 263 6,700
BUSINESS LICENSES 28 151 3,584
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 33 172 4,155
MARRIAGE LICENSES 20 111 2,290

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