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VOL. 130 | NO. 88 | Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ULI Gathering Puts Numbers to Poverty Challenge

By Bill Dries

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The way Steve Guinn sees it, there are two ways for Memphis to reduce its poverty rate by 10 percentage points.

The vice president of Highwoods Properties devised two different formulas that would achieve Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s goal of reducing the city’s 27 percent poverty rate a percentage point a year for 10 years. (The national median is 17 percent.)

Either method is a “daunting task,” Guinn told an Urban Land Institute gathering Monday, May 4.

“If your poverty level is composed of people in poverty divided by your population then you’ve either got to do one of two things,” he told the group of about 30 gathered at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. “You’ve got to freeze your poverty level, increase your population. Or you’ve got to decrease your poverty level and increase your population.”

If the city’s population grew by 400,000 over a decade while the number of citizens in poverty remained steady, the poverty rate would fall to 17 percent.

“We’d have to grow by roughly 40,000 people a year, which I think is not doable,” he said.

He then mixed an annual 3.5 percent population growth with a 1.5 percent annual reduction in poverty – equating to an annual population increase of 25,000 and a decrease of 2,500 people in poverty.

The city’s population would grow by 250,000 over the decade and the number of people in poverty would decrease by 25,000 over the same decade.

“I haven’t seen anybody run the numbers on it to see what it really means,” Guinn said, adding he is awaiting details of Wharton’s “Blueprint to Prosperity.”

Wharton has involved Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam who has pledged to work with the city on grant opportunities to fund the anti-poverty programs.

Wharton hasn’t revealed all of the pursuit’s details. But his administration has worked with Bloomberg Foundations grants to explore rewards programs that pay those in poverty for milestones like perfect attendance in school or keeping doctors appointments.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what the mayor is coming out with,” Guinn said. “Let us hear how this is going to work. This takes a senator. This takes Congress – the president. It’s not happening. We’ve got to figure out a way to reach out to these people and reduce this poverty level.”

Ben Adams, CEO of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PC and the chairman of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, said the city’s high rate of citizens living in poverty is a factor in its crime problem.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Meanwhile, Ben Adams, CEO of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PC and the chairman of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, said the city’s high rate of citizens living in poverty is a factor in the city’s crime problem.

However, Adams said, statistics the crime commission has tracked since 2006, as well as other sets of crime statistics, show crime overall is down in Memphis. And he credits it to the city’s decision in 2006 to take a statistics-based approach to massing police resources at crime hot spots.

“We do have a problem,” Adams said. “I’m not sure the average person believes crime has gone down. It’s not like a rampant kind of thing.”

Adams said city leaders need the political will to pursue increasing police ranks, as well as the ability to outsource some police functions to civilian employees.

Jessica Ball of the Hyde Family Foundations touted the “extremely ambitious and extremely possible” goals of Shelby County Schools leaders. Those 10-year goals include wiping out the 70 percent of third-graders in the school system who do not read at grade level as well as having all high school graduates prepared for either college or post-secondary associate degrees and certification.

Ball said the city’s mix of conventional and charter schools with other types of school models are improving student performance.

“This progress is an indication that students are in an environment where they are learning and where they are being challenged,” she told the group. “It does not mean the work is done. It definitely means we are trending in the right direction. Our charge is to ensure that this kind of success can be sustained and scaled.”

Ball is a Teach For America alumna who acknowledged that new college graduates can get burned out by the pace of a challenging teaching environment.

“I was burned out,” she added. “Retaining teachers starts with school leadership.”

She was also asked about the pressure on teachers to test and assess where students are making progress instead of being allowed to teach without such measurement.

“It is uncomfortable,” Ball said, noting that the pendulum in teacher accountability is swinging away from the other extreme of little to no testing. “But it’s necessary.”

PROPERTY SALES 62 288 2,619
MORTGAGES 52 197 1,783