City initiative uses new strategy to tackle blight throughout Memphis

Problem Solvers

Public Works will now target an entire city council district for weeks at a time

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A typical sight on the side of Egypt Church Road in Raleigh includes furniture, tires and trash.

“This is normal,” said Pastor Kevin Ferrell, whose church sits on the same road.

In fact, WREG spoke with Ferrell about the issue in 2012.

“If people know they’re going to be prosecuted I suspect they’ll find an alternative,” he said then.

But no follow-up ever happened in the nine years since we did that story.

When his congregants called the Problem Solvers in 2021, they were worried; Memphis Code Enforcement had issued a new notice to the church since the dumping was on their property.

“Even if we had to pay to clean it up, that would be an expense we’re not anticipating or budgeting in,” he said.

When we showed up to check out the area, we were surprised to find another team there doing the same thing. They said they were with Memphis Public Works and sent out to investigate popular dumping sites around the city.

Administrator of Street Maintenance Gerald Spencer said they were part of a new initiative. He knew about Egypt Church because his mother lives nearby.

“He told me they were investigating this, but he also told me they were going to clean it up. That is different from what code enforcement and street maintenance says to do,” Ferrell said.

When WREG checked later with a city spokesperson, she actually said the team was out there in response to a 311 complaint. That didn’t add up, since city Councilmember Rhonda Logan also praised the new initiative Spencer referenced.

“Having that holistic approach will be best for the community,” Logan said.

Here’s what she says is new: Instead of Public Works responding to individual 311 complaints around the city, Public Works will now target an entire council district for weeks at time. A city spokesperson said “the strategy includes addressing all code violations in highly blighted areas,” whether they’ve been reported or not.

“I’m really looking forward to the success of this program, and I commend the city for addressing it this way as opposed to hit-or-miss throughout the city,” Logan said.

WREG spoke with Logan at another popular dumping site in Raleigh on Old Raleigh Lagrange Road.

She said their fight to get it cleaned up took a year and a half.

“Reported to 311. After that they get violation orders, time in between those, have to come back out,” Logan said. “I began to see how certain neighborhoods are plagued with steps to getting things done.”

That’s why she’s taking this topic to city council. She and her colleagues are being more vocal about cleaning up the city.

“This council has made it a priority in recent months to tackle illegal dumping and blight,” Councilmember J.B. Smiley said.

We asked whether this issue could finally be turning a corner.

“We happen to be on council and county commission during time of COVID and sheltering in place. There’s more awareness to community issues and environmental issues,” Logan said.

“I appreciate them wanting to take care of the problem,” Ferrell said.

Two days after our visit, Ferrell called with some good news: the furniture and trash leading to their church got cleared by public works. They did not have to pay a fine.

“This area here when it’s cleaned up in summer and spring, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s only 150 yards but it’s idyllic,” Ferrell said.

The best way to avoid getting a code infraction for blight is to report issues to 311 as soon as possible, Logan said.

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