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Barlow: ‘Vacant structures are a significant barrier to revitalization’

Anti-blight attorney Steve Barlow was quoted in this week’s cover story about blighted property being a drain on the city’s tax base.

But to add insult to injury, there are likely increases in police, fire and code enforcement services, as well as infrastructure costs because of vacancy.

Here’s some more that didn’t make it into print:

“Vacant structures take more in services and pay less in taxes,” Barlow said. “They are a significant barrier to growth and revitalization.”

Barlow said that one of the benefits Memphis has in its fight against blight is the Environmental Court, which marks 30 years in operations this year.

“We have a senior judge who is very knowledgeable about these issues and understands how serious the violations of code can be,” he said. “There are a few other cities that have a comparable court, but there are a lot that don’t.”

That being said, the city’s code enforcement is guided by different, yet related municipal ordinances. While it’s not unusual to have a disparate enforcement mechanism, Barlow said that the leadership in Memphis is looking at ways to be more efficient.

For example, separate departments in Memphis enforce the housing and building code, commercial and multifamily anti-neglect ordinance, and building codes for electrical and plumbing. Then there’s the Health Department enforcing health regulations as well as violations of the code the Police Department is charged with citing, which often overlap.

Above all, Barlow said one of the biggest setbacks the community faces when it comes to problem properties is the tax foreclosure process. From the time of abandonment, the Shelby County Trustee requires a three-year period before the tax sale process, a lengthy course of action as it is. Then, after the property is seized, another year of waiting is in order before the redemption period expires.

“From the time that somebody essentially walks away from a property until the time that the government can get it back in their hands through a tax foreclosure sale and have control of it, you’re really looking at five years,” Barlow said. “Think about what happens in five years to a property that nobody cares about.”

Dansette

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