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VOL. 123 | NO. 32 | Friday, February 15, 2008

New Initiative Fosters Cooperation in Fighting Blight

By Rosalind Guy

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Some Memphis citizens have been asking for years to have blight cleaned up in their neighborhoods, from vacant buildings used as drug houses to unsightly trash left on sidewalks.

Now there's an opportunity for them to contribute to cleaning up their neighborhoods.

The University of Memphis Center for Community Building and Neighborhood Action (CBANA) and the city of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development are collaborating on an anti-blight initiative called Neighborhood-by-Neighbor.

"We've never had a citywide estimate as to how much blight Memphis has right now," said Christin G. Reeder, CBANA community organizer. "Because foreclosures happen and vacancies happen and the housing stock is constantly changing, we have to make sure that that information is updated."

Help for those who help selves

While the city will provide training, research and access to federal funding, Reeder said, it's ultimately up to the community organizations to take steps to deal with problem properties in their neighborhoods.

Phone messages left with HCD were not returned by press time.

Currently, through a Web site set up for the project, http://memphisneighborhoodsurvey.org, volunteers are being recruited.

"We're asking agencies to organize audit teams of two or three and the audit teams would be offered a one-hour training session on how to operate a hand-held data entry unit, which are just like small computers or PDAs," Reeder said. "They have a software on it called ArcPad and it is a geographic information system software. They will be offered a one-hour training session on how to operate that as well as common housing codes like broken windows, overgrown lots and anything that affects the health of the house, and the property and the community itself."

After the teams have gone through the training, they will drive up and down streets in their neighborhoods, documenting and looking for problem properties and housing code violations.

The data entry system they will be using also has a built-in camera, which will be used to further document the blight.

The data collection part of the project is expected to be complete by the end of September.

CBANA will then assemble the information into something useable for HCD to submit to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for special grants and future initiatives. The information also will be passed back to those community organizations to be used for possible prosecution in Environmental Court or to apply for grants for things such as neighborhood lawn care equipment.

Unifying stakeholders

Reeder said the most exciting part of the project is that it uses university resources and community knowledge to help rid neighborhoods of blight.

"We're bringing university research and training and skills," she said. "And those skills are being matched and shared and exchanged with community members who have valuable, valuable community knowledge and tradition and understanding and voice that tends to not always come to the forefront."

Anyone interested in signing up their community associations can do so by visiting http://memphisneighborhoodsurvey.org or by calling Tk Buchanan at 678-1188 or Reeder at 678-5524.

PROPERTY SALES 74 74 17,458
MORTGAGES 93 93 20,128
BUILDING PERMITS 126 126 36,072
BANKRUPTCIES 63 63 11,227