Blight

  • What is this?

    Blight can be defined by residents in a variety of ways, but it generally refers to buildings and properties that are vacant and/or in disrepair. Blight is usually characterized by the presence of litter, dumping, overgrown weeds, and abandoned personal property.

  • Why does it matter?

    Blight hinders neighborhood vitality. It hurts property values and impacts the quality of life of all Memphians. Blight is visible in our neighborhoods and can be associated with crime.

  • Who is responsible?

    Blight is the responsibility of all Memphians. Within the City of Memphis administration, the Chief Administrative Officer coordinates the actions of the City and its partners to deliver a comprehensive blight strategy. The Division of Public Works is responsible for issuing citations and for physically removing blight. The Legal Division and Environmental Court are responsible for getting property owners to comply with remedies to blighted properties.

    The City also relies on an array of partners to help fight blight, including:

    • Businesses and Developers (all local businesses and real-estate developers)
    • Institutions (Community Development Corporations (CDCs), non-profits, philanthropies)
    • Community Groups (neighborhood associations, resident groups, churches)
    • Residents (every Memphian)
  • How do we measure performance?

    We currently measure the productivity of the activities that we engage in to reduce and mitigate blight, and we look for that productivity to increase over time. Coming soon, the city will also survey all 244,000 commercial and residential properties in the City of Memphis to gain a baseline measure of the extent of blight in the city. From that figure, we will look to reduce the number and degree of blighted properties each year.

How is blight measured?

There is no common standard for blight. However, there are some generally accepted characteristics of blight that can be used to judge whether a property is blighted and to what degree. The 244,000-property survey that we are about to undergo will look at each parcel in Memphis. Surveyors will look at the general characteristics – residential, commercial, etc. They will take a photo of the property. They will be asked to determine whether the property is vacant or occupied and assess fifteen additional criteria such as overgrown weeds, roof condition, graffiti, and whether the property is boarded or open to entry. These criteria will be combined to determine where the property falls on the scale from healthy to blighted.

Meanwhile, we are tracking the activities we engage in to reduce and mitigate blight. We track the work that comes from Memphians (311) and the work that the City engages in proactively.

This includes:

  • Code violations -- number reported, number closed, and fines issued.
  • Tax delinquency -- amount of back taxes owed to the City, largely due to neglected properties.
  • Cases in environmental court.
  • Board-ups and demolitions completed.

What is the state of blight in Memphis?

The last city-wide survey of residential properties was collected from 2008-2010 through a partnership with the University of Memphis (CBANA) and the City of Memphis. This survey, which included approximately 200,000 parcels, indicated that the City had a blight rate of 22%,approximately 40,000 residential parcels. We will update this information when the most recent blight survey is completed.

Who is working to reduce blight in Memphis?

Blight reduction in Memphis is a collaborative effort that involves city and county government and civic organizations such as the Downtown Memphis Commission and the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. These organizations convene regularly in a working group called the Opportunity Property Group to increase the coordination and productivity of their efforts. Their projects include those that are listed below.

Agency Description of Project Underway Next-Steps/Opportunities

Innovation Delivery Team

  • Blight Data Warehouse: combining administrative data and survey data to create a comprehensive database.
  • Mobilize neighborhoods and organizations around data and neighborhood plans.
  • Increase community engagement around blight and blight data.

Executive Division, City of Memphis

  • Working with LEAN firm to streamline and improve Code Enforcement.
  • Implementation of strategic reforms.
  • Provide leadership and develop further policy to impact blight.

Public Works Division, City of Memphis

  • Programs to eliminate blight: demolition, board-ups, property cleanup and remediation, mobile tool bank, sweeps of specific districts, etc.
  • Conduct city-wide survey of all 244,000 parcels by November 2015.
  • Community mobilization and education.
  • Plans and policies for waste management.
  • Increased capacity for clean-ups.

Code Enforcement, Public Works Division

  • Working with LEAN firm to streamline and improve Code Enforcement.
  • New policies and procedures manual as well as implementation of strategic reforms.
  • Continuous improvement of operations of Code Enforcement.
  • Community engagement and partnerships to strengthen code enforcement.

Clean Memphis and Memphis City Beautiful, Public Works Division

  • Agencies devoted to eliminating dumping, trash, and litter around the city. Facilitate neighborhood projects and volunteer clean-ups.
  • Mobile tool bank.

Neighborhood Preservation, Inc.

  • Planning phase of a Land Reutilization Entity for the City of Memphis.
  • New State legislation to enable the creation of the entity. Intention to launch in Memphis in 2015.
  • Support to stand the entity up.
  • Funding and revenue stream for a sustainable entity.

Environmental Court

  • Increased court capacity to litigate.
  • Introduction of community courts.
  • Increase reach and efficiency of court system.

University of Memphis

  • Providing thought leadership and key support for data warehousing and analysis efforts.
  • Increasing court capacity to litigate by providing third year law students to work and argue the cases in court.
  • Maintain blight data warehouse and coordinate access requests.

Shelby County Trustee's Office

  • Tax collection and foreclosure.
  • Strategic approach to increasing tax revenue from current tax-dead properties.

Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce

  • Clean by 2019: Chamber of Commerce "moon mission" to clean Memphis and help eliminate blight by 2019.
  • Development of comprehensive plan.
  • Funds and resources for implementation.
  • Community mobilization and education.

Downtown Memphis Commission

  • Partners with the City of Memphis to eliminate blight in downtown Memphis.
  • Survey of downtown properties to establish accounting of blight.
  • Serves as a demonstration for programs and policies that can be applied city-wide.
  • Extracting broader lessons that can be shared across the city.

What can I do to help eliminate blight in Memphis?

Residents: Take care and maintain your property. Report blighted properties to 311. Join your neighborhood or community group in neighborhood cleanup activities.

Community Groups: Organize neighborhood cleanups to remove trash, mow overgrown grass, and help board vacant properties. Volunteer with local CDCs to survey blight in your area. Plant community gardens and think creatively about re-using vacant property.

Businesses: Ensure that your business's exterior and the area around your business is well-maintained, including litter removal. Support local community groups and local government efforts with funding and volunteers.

Institutions: Advocate for policies and strategies that will help to eliminate blight. Lead clean-up efforts around your institution. Support blight elimination efforts with funding, supplies, and volunteers.

More information