Memphis steps in as national leader in blight abatement with launch of code enforcement academy

Memphis will share its best practices learned in the fight against blight at the the first Strategic Code Enforcement Academy, which will provide technical training and assistance to code enforcement officers from around the country.

The new program, which launches in May, will examine ways to streamline the process of cleaning up vacant and blighted properties, an effort that has accelerated in recent years with the founding of groups such as the Blight Authority of Memphis and decrees like the Blight Elimination Charter.

The academy is part of a larger anti-blight strategy happening in cities similar to Memphis like Cleveland and Baltimore.

“We’ve talked for a couple of years about having this kind of teaching, training and study tool particularly designed to provide support to people at the management and policy making level,” said Kermit Lind, senior faculty for the Strategic Code Enforcement Academy and fellow at Neighborhood Preservation, Inc.

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., with support from the Kresge Foundation, are taking applications for the inaugural academy taking place in Memphis on May 18 and 19.

“Not only is it fortunate to have the two institution helping us get this launched, but Memphis itself is a great laboratory to illustrate the points we want to talk about,” said Lind. “The academy will have the effect of enriching Memphis, and the work will serve as a model for other areas of the country.”

The curriculum for the intensive two-day conference will focus on issues like assessing the code compliance situation in Memphis, looking for strengths and weaknesses, examining laws and legal processes and how they affect the courts, the problem of absentee investor owners of multiple properties with a pattern of non-compliance, and the use of technology to get data faster from the point of inspection to decision-making.

“It’s very challenging because the field of housing and neighborhood code-making and implementing is changing rapidly at the moment because of the changes in the housing economy,” said Lind. “The overall financial crisis of the past ten years has pilfered a lot of things that affect how communities are able to maintain themselves.”

Up to 40 participants will be selected for the first academy representing five or six cities. Each delegation will be given the opportunity to build strategies that will address the unique problems and challenges facing their community.

Faculty for the academy will include Lind; Neighborhood Preservation president Steve Barlow; Joe Schilling, senior faculty for the academy and Neighborhood Preservation Fellow; and Danny Schaffzin, director of experiential learning at the University of Memphis School of Law.

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Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.