Starting Small 

Memphian begins one-man campaign to rebuild community.

Charles Morris wants to rehabilitate his neighborhood one lot at a time, starting with the place next door. Literally.

Morris, a longtime North Memphis community leader, went to the City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee this week because he is interested in buying the vacant lot next door to his home on Alaska Street. The lot is currently owned by the city and Morris plans to build a small house on it.

"I'm encouraging people in the neighborhood, if there's a vacant lot next to them, to buy it and put a house on it. That's where [redevelopment] starts," he said.

In the Klondike neighborhood where he lives, he estimated there are about 50 vacant lots nearby, where rundown homes have been demolished, but nothing has been built in their place. Instead, the lots are tangles of weeds and trash.

"They tear the houses down, but they don't put anything else back up. It takes out voter strength; it takes out the tax base," he said. "If [the lots] had nice houses on them, they would have nice people living in them and it would help improve the look of the community."

Morris, now 83, grew up in the construction business and in the 1930s actually helped build most of the houses that still stand on Alaska Street. Now he plans to build a new brick home, with two or three bedrooms, whichever the city wants. "I don't fool with no siding or anything like that," he said. "If you're going to build something, you want it to last forever."

What the neighborhood really needs is a big cleanup. He said there are a couple of blocks that look like a junkyard. The Klondike neighborhood association, of which Morris is a member, organizes events a couple of times a year to clean up the vacant lots, but it's not enough.

"We've gotten to the age where we can't do all we used to, but we keep on working," Morris said.

A nearby church also expressed interest in purchasing the lot to expand their parking area, but Morris said he's not going to "stand by and watch while they build a parking lot around my house."

When the house is finished, Morris doesn't know whether he'll rent it or sell it to a low-income family. All he would want out of it, he said, is what he put in it.

"If I had the money," Morris said, "every poor person with a house in Klondike that needed rehabbing or whatnot, I'd do it."

E-mail: cashiola@memphisflyer.com

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