If approved by the Memphis City Council, a proposed $200,000 community revitalization program to help poverty-level seniors afford repairs and tackle blight would come from the council’s Community Fund.

by James Coleman —

A proposed $200,000 community revitalization program to help poverty-level seniors afford repairs and tackle blight was outlined Tuesday (June 1) during the Memphis City Council meeting.

“We tailor it specifically to senior citizens in our community, who don’t have the funds to pay for or to address the code enforcement violations. It does us no good as a city to cite individuals who cannot afford to pay for code enforcement violations because their homes are not up to code” said J B Smiley Jr., the resolution’s co-sponsor.

Funding for the program would come from the council’s Community Fund. It would go to homes that recently cited for code violations. Senior’s at or below the poverty line would be eligible.

According to the 2020 University of Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet, 14.1 percent of Memphians age 65 and up live in poverty. 

Dilapidated homes are just one problem plaguing many low-income communities. The resolution was amended to address blight. 

“We can fix homes. We can make minor repairs as it relates to sidewalks. We can help people fix the siding. We can do all of those things, but there is still trash being dumped in front of homes,” said Smiley.

Legally, Memphis’ property owners are liable for solid waste or other bulk trash items on their properties – even if they didn’t put it there. 

“(The city’s) Solid waste (department) isn’t going to do it. Public works doesn’t do it either. For the impoverished citizens in our community, I think we need to lend a helping hand and help beautify our neighborhoods and clean up the trash when they don’t have the ability to do it,” said co-sponsor J. Ford Canale.

Another resolution discussed during the council’s May 4 meeting calls for the ban of dumping items in bulk capacity curbside on all city streets, a practice that is common during evictions. It would apply to all landlords and homeowners.

Many details have yet to come into focus.

First, who would do the work? There are many organizations in Memphis currently dedicated to the problem. Community members may be eager to roll up their sleeves and earn money too. That would lead to more paperwork.

It also was pointed out that the Mayor’s Office runs a program similar to the one proposed: Complaints are filed and crews are hired to remove waste.

“Do we want to give the administration additional dollars and let them do what they have been doing or do we want to do something that could have a greater impact?” asked council member Patrice Robinson. 

Ceding control to another agency was a nonstarter for some councilmembers. Meanwhile, community members may need to become vendors before they could apply.

The idea of using community members to supplement code enforcement also was floated. They would spot problem properties and dumping sites so they could be dealt with more efficiently. 

“The money that they generate from the notices sent out for people, then we can use those dollars to keep that $200,000 going. And we can keep the program going in our communities and have a much greater impact,” said Robinson.

Yet, the spirit of the resolution is to aid seniors who can’t afford repairs, not drive up funding for the program’s perpetuity.

“If I am a senior citizen at the poverty line and I am being cited over and over again for violations, and don’t have anywhere to turn. The council has the funds available to remedy the problem for us. Whether we help one or a few hundred people, I believe it matters,” Smiley said.

Billing rates and caps on compensation were also brought up. 

“The same pile may cost you $400 what another group does for $900,” said council Chairman Frank Colvett Jr., who asked to be made a co-sponsor.

The creation of further bureaucracy was another concern. In addition to running a program, the council is still tasked with its mission. 

It was argued that, perhaps, the program would take the body away from its legislative duties. Outside organizations already committed to the job, such as nonprofits, could manage the program.

“Before we do something, I think we need to step back and see what that is actually having us do,” cautioned council member Jeff Warren.

No action was taken on the proposal Tuesday.