Game Changer 

City of Memphis receives grant to demolish blighted homes.

Vacant, rundown properties come a dime a dozen in Memphis, but things are looking up for a couple of local neighborhoods. Last week, the National Association of Realtors awarded the city of Memphis, the Memphis Area Association of Realtors (MAAR), and local homebuilders a $25,000 "Game Changer" grant to fund the demolition of approximately 20 blighted properties.

Thirty groups from across the country applied for the national grant, and Memphis was one of five cities to receive the full $25,000.

"These [blighted homes] are sources of declining property values for the neighborhood," said Onzie Horne, the city's deputy director of community enhancement. "They become centers of criminal activity. They present an obvious health and safety hazard for the community, so it's absolutely critical that we eliminate those houses that are beyond rehabilitation."

"The whole idea is to ease the burden of the city's list of [vacant] houses," said Lee Davidson Holt, chairwoman of MAAR's Community Partners Committee. "The long-range hope is to create a pilot program for other cities to do similar things."

Through collaboration, MAAR and the city will be able to reduce the cost of demolition from around $4,000 or $5,000 per house to a little over $1,000 per house, meaning their grant money will be enough to tear down roughly 20 blighted homes.

"We're able to do with $25,000 what normally costs from $100,000 to $125,000," said Aubrie Kobernus, director of governmental affairs at MAAR. "If other groups come in and bring additional resources, we're going to have an even greater impact."

To save money, area homebuilders plan to donate their time, labor, and equipment, while the city is helping with dumping fees and permit processes, Kobernus said. Most of the grant funds will go toward paying for fuel and soil.

"[MAAR] knows that the city is dedicated to demolishing houses that are beyond rehabilitation. They wanted to make a contribution of manpower dollars to help get that done," Horne said. "The realtors want to be able to make a visible difference, to show a real impact on a neighborhood, and to prepare for the next phase."

The city and MAAR are looking for houses to target for demolition, as well as strategies to produce something worthwhile on the land cleared. Some ideas include placing public art and community gardens on the properties. Demolition will likely occur in one or two neighborhoods with the greatest need, Horne said. The demolitions are expected to be complete by the end of the year.

"It's not just tearing down the property," Kobernus said. "It's also coming up with a plan for what do to with these properties afterward, because if the vacant lot becomes a dumping ground and the grass never gets cut, it just becomes another nuisance for the neighborhood."

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