Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Home for the Holidays an event to help families avoid foreclosure

Home for the Holidays

an event to help families avoid foreclosure

Presented by State Senator Mark Norris, State Representative G. A. Hardaway,
Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir, Memphis Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma
Theta Sorority, Inc., and Memphis Urban League

Saturday, December 11
Southwest TN Community College—Union Ave campus
Verties Sails Bldg Memphis, TN 38103

This FREE event will provide opportunities to talk directly with lender repre-
sentatives and/or HUD-approved counselors for families facing foreclosure
and other financial challenges.

This event will include:
 One-on-One time with your mortgage servicer
 Workshops on Financial Literacy and Maintaining Homeownership in
Difficult Times
 Workshops on Job Readiness in the 21st Century

For event information, call 901-432-4882 or visit www.shelbycountytrustee.com



Please bring the following documents to the Home for the Holi-
days event so that we may better assist you:

Two most recent paystubs showing earnings for last 30 days

Copy of any benefits statements reflecting amount, frequency and
duration of benefits
Household Expense Budget

If self-employed, most recent quarterly or year-to-date Profit and Loss
Last two months of bank statements

Copy of signed 2008 and 2009 income tax returns

Copy of a utility bill showing name and property address

Homeowner’s Association bill, if applicable

Most recent mortgage and property insurance statements

Copy of closing documents and most recent correspondence from
your mortgage company


HUD approved counselors
Fair Housing Alliance
Community Development Council and
many more...

Thursday, December 02, 2010

“Fissures in the Mortar: A Crisis for Church Separation in America” SUNDAY DEC 5th@3pm




Date: Dec. 5, 2010

TIME: 3:00PM

Place: Benjamin Hooks Library
3030 Poplar Ave.


“Fissures in the Mortar:
A Crisis for Church Separation in America”

Two years after President Obama has taken office and little, if
anything, has changed from the former administration regarding
the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Rev.
Steven C. Baines will address the growing controversy over
recent executive orders that have left in place religion-based
discrimination in social services. Baines will also examine
several Appellate and US Supreme Court decisions that have
begun to dismantle the scared wall of church-state separation.

Reverend Steven Baines – Rev. Baines is Religious Outreach Director for Americans United
for the Separation of Church and State where he is responsible for the organization's national
engagement with and mobilization of people of faith. He has also served as Executive Director
for Equal Partners in Faith, a national interfaith organization committed to fighting racism,
sexism and homophobia. He is currently serving as the Chair of Elders at the denomination’s
national cathedral in Washington, DC, National City Christian Church.

There will be time for questions. The meeting is free and open to the public.

The Public Issues Forum is a Memphis voluntary association, which sponsors programs to inform
and educate the public on current issues and seeks to reinforce the principles set forth in the
Constitution of the United States. Public Issues Forum P.O. Box 241011 Memphis TN 38124-1011

Monday, November 15, 2010

NY Times: Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget!

I am posting this because I think it is interesting, provides a good perspective on where our debt is coming from, and I think it would be a helpful tool for informing voters on exactly what tough choices we and our government will have to make in order to bring the deficit down.


Notice that eliminating earmarks hardly does anything to the deficit, and pay close attention to the tax options!

Friday, November 12, 2010


Dear Memphis Organizer,

We know how you have mobilized your community, embarked on new ways to unite people, and brought awareness to issues when no one was paying attention. How are you going to share all the great lessons you learned and the mistakes you won't repeat? Come to Tennessee RootsCamp!

RootsCamp is the best opportunity to reflect on what you've done, and share with other organizers how to do it better. During this open format conference on November 20, 2010, in Memphis you'll make organizing connections, find new means of organizing, and have the opportunity to reassess your work.

Tennessee RootsCamp will be held at the Cooper Young Conference Center on Nov. 20! It is FREE, but you must register. Sponsor opportunities are also available.

TN RootsCamp is an "unconference", rather than the typical boring panelists and so called experts, RootsCamp turns the tables. Instead, the attendees all become the presenters! TN State RootsCamp promises to be the most dynamic way for campaigners, issue organizers, volunteers, and community leaders to discuss their organizing in a meaningful way.

At the end of the weekend, organizers walk away with new lessons to better their organizing, make new friends, and recharge for the movement ahead.

Register for TN RootsCamp

Here's the challenge...
The "unconference" is completely dependent on you. If you or your organizers aren't in the room, we can't talk about the organizing you've done.

Will you join us at TN RootsCamp?

Be a part of TN RootsCamp

We'd love to see you there!

Thank you,
Allison, Brad, Gio, Jacob, & Josephine
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center

PS- Do you know more great organizers? Please invite the best organizers in Tennessee to RootsCamp via Facebook. link

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Rep. Ulysses Jones Jr.

No snark on the blog today. Just thoughts and prayers for the family of State Rep. Ulysses Jones Jr. who just passed away.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Justin Ford is awesome... Just ask him.

The Commercial Appeal ran a puff piece on the newest Ford to ride his name to prominence. He manages to talk about himself in the third person and to announce his intention to get elected to Congress, the mayorship, and King of the World (I'm sure the last one got lost in editing.) It's annoying enough that we have an incompetent and corrupt inherited monarchy in Memphis, but is it too much to ask that they at least graduate from college before they rule over us?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

City Council Non-Discrimination Ordinance

The Tennessee Equality Project is asking people come to Tuesday's city Council meeting. The Council will be voting on the first reading of the Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance, as well as a study on employeement discrimination. They're asking people to be there at 3:30 in the City Council Chamber at 125 North Main Street. For more information, see their Facebook page. See you there!

Friday, November 05, 2010

State Party Chair

Sean Braisted has an interesting post and poll up about possibilities for state party chair. Check it out.

I like the thought of Andy Berke quite a bit, but we'll see how long it takes for Republicans to change the campaign finance laws before he can be a candidate.

I don't have any real preference otherwise, though it's obvious that enough people want Chip Forrester's head that he's not a great choice.

Okay... Maybe finger-pointing ain't all bad...

I typically whine about the pointless backstabbing and finger-pointing that occurs after every bad election. However, I have to admit that I'm loving the heat Rahm is getting this time.

Chicago mayoral hopeful Carol Moseley Braun went on the attack Thursday, slamming rival Rahm Emanuel for "abandoning" President Obama after "pushing policies that [led] to the biggest Democratic Party political loss in 27 years."

"He left the president holding the bag," Braun asserted in a statement that also claimed Emanuel "cut and ran" on Obama when he left his chief of staff job to return to Chicago for a mayoral run.

"If Rahm abandoned the president of the United States, what makes anybody think he'll stick by regular Chicagoans?" Braun asked.

The former U.S. senator and ambassador lobbed the broadside at Emanuel on the day he flew to Los Angeles for a major fund-raiser hosted by his brother Ari, the Hollywood super agent, and entertainment industry moguls David Geffen, Bob Iger, Peter Chernin and Haim Saban. The event was in Saban's Beverly Hills home, with tickets ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

Braun slammed Emanuel's fund-raiser, too.

"On this day when President Obama and Illinois Democrats are still recovering from the painful political debacle that he was the architect of, Rahm Emanuel is off in Hollywood hanging out with bankers and billionaires. But maybe Hollywood is where he belongs because the story of how he 'helped' the Obama administration when he was chief of staff is indeed fiction."

Whining is more fun...

But sometimes you just have to mention the awesome things Memphis has going for it. Have you checked out the new Greenline? It's pretty dang awesome!!!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Where's Howard?

Remember that stupid 50 state strategy of organizing and running in every district? Man did that blow. It's not like we won in a landslide twice in a row or anything. Luckily, we fired the idiot who thought of that. Thanks to Obama's brilliant tactician Rahm Emmanuel, the loser wasn't even invited to his own going away party. That'll teach him. Even better, those dumb GOP guys ran and organized everywhere. Boy was that a waste...

*Crickets Chirpping*

Brad does a great job combating blight, so I thought I’d do my part by mowing the yard in this blog and taking the boards off the window. A month spent in Le Bonheur and over a year spent with a baby who found sleeping optional has kept me out of blogging and local politics. I’ve still been busy though, making hundred of calls for Sestak, Feingold, and Bennett. One out of three is a decent batting average, right?

This election sucked. After the shock wears off is when the traditional period of finger-pointing begins. I’m sure they’ll be plenty of that, but I’m not so interested in it. Locally and nationally the Far Right is about to start passing legislation that’s slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. It’s time to show them that Democrats can fight. It’s going to be trench warfare for the next two years, pass the mustard gas.

On the bright side, the state legislature can’t redistrict us out of any more congressional seats. 2 is as low as it gets. Anything they did to weaken Cohen in 9 would make 7 or 8 competitive. To a lesser extent, that’s true in the state legislature. We’re down almost 2-1 in the Senate and House. That’s well neigh as low as it can go. Locally, Mike Kernell and Jim Kyle are the only legislators they could harm with redistricting. That’s the big fight we have next time. Anything they do to weaken them is going to make the adjacent Republican district more competitive. We have to recruit strong candidates to give the Republicans a race, and work our butts off to defend Mike and Jim. It’s going to be a Presidential year. The turnout gives us a great shot at gaining back some of the ground we lost.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

John Marek's Post-2010 Election Cycle Thoughts

First off, I want to take a second to brag about my Senate predictions. On the Senate races, I beat the experts I rely on for my numbers, and if Murray wins in WA (as I expect) and Murkowski wins in AK (which is possible if a bunch of Miller's voters didn't write him in as asked to do by his campaign) then I called every U.S. Senate race correctly (if you forgive me for hedging my bets on either IL or CO giving the Dems number 53...and I admit I leaned more towards it coming from IL than CO).

I also correctly called the local races, but that's nothing to brag about (the results were very obvious in every race). State Reps Kernell and Richardson kept their seats, Charlotte Bergmann can't win, and Congressman Cohen pulled off a resounding 74% victory.

On the bad side of the local elections the TN House is 64 R to 34 D (w/ 1 Independent) and the TN Senate is 21 R to 12 D in districts DRAWN BY DEMOCRATS. Once redistricting has been completed next year, we'll be lucky to have any Democrats outside of Davidson and Shelby County in the state legislature. TN is the new UTAH so marry several of your cousins and get ready to bring in the new year.

Before going into the Federal House races, I should admit that I have yet to see the overall state legislature election results, but I'm guessing they weren't too pretty either (probably somewhere between the Senate and House results).

On the Federal House races, I should've stuck to the experts. Fivethirtyeight.com's Nate Silver was EXTREMELY accurate in calling them. I believe he was predicting a 56 seat pickup (Kos was calling it at 49 though he's not a pollster), and it seems to be as though the Republicans will pick up around 64 seats in the House. In Nate Silver's defense, the Republicans won the popular vote in the House races by around 6.7% (which should have equaled a little less than a 56 or so seat gain...Fivethirty-eight had predicted that they'd win the popular vote by 6.9%). To make it a little more clear I'll quote Nate Silver addressing the formulas used to translate a generic ballot (popular vote) into House seat gains:

"Those formulas would generally translate a 6-7 point popular vote win into something like a 50 or 55 seat gain for Republicans. Instead, it looks like Republicans will net something on the order of 65 seats. The Republican vote was evidently concentrated in a way that was quite efficient."

Also, it should be noted (though not in enough detail here) that I was correct in predicting the obvious trend: Dems lost more seats in the South, Midwest, and other rural areas more than anywhere else (by far), which helps explain why more than a third of the Democratic losses were "Blue Dog" (Conservative) Democrats (only 46% of them are returning as opposed to 95% of the progressive caucus Dems...59% of the new Dems who didn't belong to either group are returning). Tea Party candidates helped Republicans in the regions (and rural areas) listed, but actually hurt them in other House races across the country (including blowing their chances of taking the U.S. Senate). Christine O'Donnell is not a witch, but she's not a Senator either. Thanks for saving us from complete obliteration Tea Party ;).

My House predictions were based off of Nate Silver's predictions factored in w/ the false hope I had that young people, minorities, and other core Democratic groups would have a higher than expected turnout. Here are some interesting statistics from last night that should re-emphasize what I meant when I said ITS ALL ABOUT THE TURNOUT!:

'08: Minorities made up 26% of the vote.
'10: Minorities made up 22% of the vote.

'08: Youth made up 18% of the vote.
'10: Youth made up 11% of the vote.

This difference alone would've flipped several house races (and close Senate races like PA). However, we still would've taken a hit due to the economy's slow recovery (because people haven't figured out that a "fix the economy in 2 seconds" button doesn't exist). Therefore the Independents would have done some damage to the Democratic majority even if the turnout had been better:

'08: Independents voted Democratic 52% to 44%
'10: Independents voted Republican 55% to 39%

The 2010 electorate was older, whiter, and angrier. All of you people who only vote during Presidential races are to blame :P. Fortunately it won't be a midterm in 2 years.

Monday, November 01, 2010

John Marek's Nov. 2nd Federal Election Predictions:

Federal Predictions: 53 D to 47 R in the Senate (only 1 higher than most pollsters are predicting: 52 to 48); 213 D to 222 R in the House.

Breakdown of the Senate battleground states:

CA: CA should have never been considered a Battleground state in the first place. Boxer will win by close to 10 points in my opinion.

WA: Murray will hold onto her seat narrowly (but still slightly better than the 2 point advantage she has on fivethirtyeight).

WV: Manchin's going to take it though it'll be close (not even going to try to call a spread here because of the complexity of the race...popular Democratic governor running for Senate in a state that votes Republican federally).

Now the hard part:

NV: I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a Harry Reid victory although the polls say otherwise. The NRA has always been very friendly w/ him, and the early voting numbers looked great for Dems in NV.

I'm predicting that number 53 will come from one of these two states (most likely the first)

IL: Hard to imagine having to fight for the Senate seat in IL, but Republicans were smart in this state and nominated moderate/opportunist Mark Kirk to face left wing Giannoulias (who suffered in the polls after his family's bank failed). Kirk shot himself in the foot by lying about his military record, but its turned out to be one of the closest Senate races in the country. If you made me pick, I would say Giannoulias will pull this one off by a hair because of the Chicago Democratic turnout machine. I will not be shocked if I am wrong on this one though.

CO: Buck v. Bennett. Both had brutal primaries, and CO was one of the few states where the tea party candidate polled as well as the establishment candidate against the Democratic candidates (which is why it wasn't that big of a deal when Buck won the nomination). Polls are going both ways on this one...If you made me pick here, then I would probably say Buck will win; however, I think we have almost as much of a chance of winning here as IL because of the in-fighting in the GOP and because of the large progressive youth vote (which hopefully turns out) in CO.

PA: This and the next state are probably the only other states w/ even a chance of a Democratic upset. Some recent polling data has this state as a Sestak/Toomey toss-up while other polls show its still about a 5 point race in favor of Toomey. The Dems have invested a lot of time and money in PA in the past, and therefore their organizational structure there COULD save them...I just doubt it.

WI: God I hate to see Feingold go, but that's the likely scenario to hit tomorrow (which goes along w/ a regional prediction I'll be making for the House races further down).

KY: It was looking like we had a shot here, but the recent polling trend has been heavily in favor of Rand Paul. We still shouldn't fret about losing KY though...Republicans were forced to spend money here when they normally wouldn't have to so the tea party forced the repubs (by nominating Rand Paul) to "spread their wealth around" to a state that would've otherwise never seen a dime from the RNC.

MO, NC, NH, AK: All somewhat close, but I don't see Democratic victories in these Senate races this cycle. AK is the one that could provide a major upset if McAdams benefited enough from a Murkowski/Miller split, but don't count on it (I will go out on a limb and predict a Murkowski write-in victory though...it will likely be Miller but you can hold me to the prediction).

The rest of the Senate races (including DE) aren't really worth commenting on since they will break in the very obvious directions each are leaning in.

House predictions: Nate Silver is predicting a 54-55 seat Republican gain and puts the numbers at 202 Dems to 233 Repubs. Unfortunately, he's probably right although he is making much more dire predictions than most experts.

I'm going to make a slightly more positive prediction than Nate based on a combination of cell phone bias in polling and based on the fact that I think the Democrats and OFA are going to come through on turning out UNLIKELY voters (which will make the likely voter models slightly inaccurate).

Therefore, my House prediction will be around a 43 seat Democratic loss. Meaning my final prediction will be around 213 Dems to 222 Repubs.

I'd like to predict a better result for Dems, but I just can't stray too far from Nate Silver's predictions considering how accurately he called the 2008 Presidential race (and Senate/Congressional races). Even he admits that trying to call the House results within 5 or even 10 seats is superstition, and that it can be anywhere from the Dems narrowly holding the House all the way up to losses in the 70s. I'm taking my chances and sticking to my prediction though.

I'm not going to try to call each individual district (I just haven't been keeping up w/ district-by-district data like I did for the Senate), but I will predict that the Democrats will out perform expectations in the West, the NE, and IL, while underperforming in the rest of the great lake states and the south.

I haven't been paying nearly enough attention to the Governor's races (which aren't federal so they really don't belong in this post), but I will agree w/ Nate Silver's predictions here and say 19 Dem Governors, 30 Repub Governors, and 1 Independent Gov (RI).

John Marek's Nov. 2nd Local Election Predictions:

1st (because I have a lot to say about it) Consolidation: I admit that I was a fence-sitter for way too long on this issue because I felt like the consolidation initiative gave way too many concessions to the county (in order to garner its support), but now I am firmly for it although I do not predict it will pass.

Why? For all of the wrong reasons. The obvious group opposing consolidation includes the greedy white county residents who don't want to pay their fair share of taxes to the city (that benefits them and likely gave them a reason to move to where they are at in the first place...ya know that place that most of them drive to work every morning?).

What's the group that came out of nowhere and opposed consolidation? Members of the African American community opposing it because of their fear that vote dilution will result with a metro county government body...I understand why they make this argument, but I wish they could see why it is such a racist reason to oppose something that will actually benefit the city.

Both the county whites and the city blacks (who oppose it...not all city blacks and all county whites oppose it) are missing a fundamental reason for consolidation. Businesses that come to Memphis have to jump through a double bureaucracy/hurdle in order to establish themselves here (County and City). This doesn't make sense, its bad for business, and its sad that at the end of the day this won't pass because of greed and the fact that people continue to refuse to come together as one.

U.S. House District 9: Congressman Cohen will win this hands down. Charlotte Bergmann can't win in a district that was drawn very heavily in favor of Democrats and is represented by a popular Congressman who has dedicated his life to representing the people of this city (i.e. he's done A LOT).

I could see Bergmann getting as much as 30% of the vote, and if she gets more than that it will only be due to the fact that we've had a low turn out around this area for the 2010 election cycle. I would be very shocked if she even got close to 40%.

U.S. House District 8: I'm obviously going for Herron. However, the numbers just don't look that great and I could see him losing by 5 to 10%. I hope I'm wrong on this one more than most. I will add that if Herron can get North Memphis to actually vote, then it will be an entirely different race, which is why I may actually spend some of my time tomorrow canvassing the part of N. Memphis in his district.

MS House District 1: Travis Childers is also behind in the polling, but he is only behind by 5 to 6%, which means that a good GOTV operation could make a higher than expected turnout dismiss the likely voter model used by the pollsters in his race. However, if the turnout there matches the 9th (and other districts w/ high amounts of minority voters) at all, I don't see him pulling an upset either.


TN Gov: As much as I would prefer McWherter to Haslam, I just don't see it happening in this political environment/state (especially considering the lack of resources McWherter has at his disposal and the plethora of resources on the other side). I think McWherter will be doing well to break 40% (which is very possible), but I don't see it getting much better than that.


I've debated on whether or not to make any more local election predictions since I don't have as much data, but what the hell:

State House District 93: Tn State Rep. Mike Kernell has a fight on his hands. He should technically be able to pull it off, but its all going to come down to turnout. He was one of the first people to take me canvassing though so I know that he knows how to win an election, and I expect him to hold onto his seat.

State House District 89: Tn State Rep. Jeanne Richardson is going to be just fine. She realized that a low turnout means that you have to treat it like you are behind (hell any candidate should always do so), and her campaign has been working its tail off in a district that is distinctively more Democratic than Rep. Kernell's so I expect her to hold onto her seat too.

Bottom line: I don't see Tim Cook or Clay Shelton pulling off an upset, but if you are going to knock on doors in Memphis tomorrow then help Rep. Kernell or Jeanne Richardson out.

If you are willing to travel a little bit then go to N. MS to help Travis Childers or go to North Memphis/Millington to help Roy Herron.

Because these are the only competitive state house races in the county I'm going to end it there, but feel free to let me know if I left out any big races (I left out school board stuff simply because I haven't seen any data and local races like that are so hard to call).

Coming soon (probably late tonight): Federal Predictions (sorry to all of the Dems who don't like my dire predictions on local or national races...I try to predict w/ my brain and not w/ my heart).

Friday, October 29, 2010


Another small victory in a long long push for a blight free Memphis. this little 'gem' in the Frayser area is owned by lending giant Wells Fargo and in addition to bringing down the value and appearance of the neighborhood. Wells Fargo owed $2070 in unpaid taxes, fees and code related fines. the board up costs and grass mowing had been passed on to the people of Memphis. Thankfully our efforts to promote accountability paid off and Wells Fargo made full payment on their debts this property. We will continue to push for accountability until ALL WELLS FARGO PROPERTIES BACK TAXES AND FINES ARE PAID IN FULL AND THESE PROPERTIES ARE UP TO CODE STANDARDS!... So one down....Twenty nine to go.....

Blightwatch 19 New Chicago update-small victory

A follow up on a previous report. 1269 Capital in New Chicago was a mess, but i'm glad to say that by applying pressure to Original Resources inc, "The California based owner"all of our demands were met.
Now the grass has been cut,building secured, and maintenance company hired.
...Now we keep pushing until all back taxes and code fines are paid. a small step but progress none the less.

Take a look at what this property was like before......


A special edition of Blightwatch, this is a small portion of some of our conversations at our protest action at the Wells Fargo event last Tuesday OCT 19th. At this event Wells Fargo was attempting in our view to "whitewash" their reputation as a predatory lender and bad corporate neighbor by making 48k in donations and grants to local and statewide non-profit organizations. We were on hand to confront them about their policies and sub-prime lending and servicing practices as well as the large number of Wells Fargo properties that owe back taxes as well as unpaid fines and fees for mowed grass , board ups and demolitions all at the TAX PAYER'S EXPENSE.

Last Friday Oct 22nd we met with Wells Fargo representatives Candy Moore, senior vice president, and Hugh Rowden, Senior vice President in a meeting hosted by Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir. also in attendance were Terica Lamb, executive director of legislative outreach for the Trustee's office and Pat Black, Deputy Treasurer for the city of Memphis.

At this initial meeting Ms. Moore and Mr Rowden both claimed that Wells Fargo will review each of these properties and will make quick payment of owned taxes. However they also are claiming..."incorrectly in my view" that some of these properties are not their financial responsibility and they are merely serving as Trustee. They claim that the servicers of these said properties are actually responsible for paying of taxes and maintenance of the property. They provided us with the names of who was the servicer of each property and have contacted each of these companies and are urging them to make quick payment on these debts.

It is fair to say that I am skeptical of these claims and am in early consultation with attorneys on this matter who also find Wells Fargo's claims to be dubious. MSPJC seeks to avoid litigation if possible but moving forward we will remain aggressive and vigilant in ensuring that every dime owned by the tax payers is recovered and that these properties are brought up to code standards. Our next meeting with this group is next friday NOVEMBER 5th and we will keep you updated at every step.
This is only the beginning...

Demand Change

Monday, October 18, 2010


Another blighted WELLS FARGO owned property, secured and mowed at the tax payers expense. In addition this property has unpaid back taxes that amount to $2498.97 this does not include the cost to the city of cutting the grass or boarding up the building......guess who pays to pick up their slack?.....here's a hint...YOU DO.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Memphis confronts WELLS FARGO's unethical practices

WHAT: Memphis confronts WELLS FARGO's unethical practices
TIME: 7:30am-9:00am
WHERE: Memphis Botanical Gardens
750 Cherry Road Memphis, TN.
... (meet up 7:15am at parking, service road off Cherry north of Botanic Gardens)

Wells Fargo bank in celebration of it's acquisition of Wachovia bank is hosting a "Community Event" on TUESDAY, October 19th at 7:30am-9:00am at the Memphis Botanical Gardens at 750 Cherry Road Memphis, TN. At this event WELLS FARGO will grant $48,000 to local nonprofit organizations in a shallow attempt to buy the goodwill of the people of Memphis as well as whitewash their actions in our community.

Join us Tuesday as we come to collect the $60,000 in back taxes, and unpaid fines and fees owed by WELLS FARGO to our community. This money is owed on 45 properties that they own or have foreclosed on, leaving families on the streets, and communities plagued by blight. If WELLS FARGO wants to have the good will of the people of Memphis and Shelby county then they must earn it by responsible and ethical actions not by hiding behind the good works of local non-profits.

You already know that over the past ten months the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has been hard at work in researching the root causes and connections between social ills such as homelessness, blight, fires, home foreclosure and how these problems intersect and manifest in our communities. In this process we have observed how the predatory behavior of banks and lending institution like WELLS FARGO does not end with the distribution of sub-prime loans in African American neighborhoods, nor does it end with families put out on the streets via home foreclosure. These unethical actions extend further as vacant properties owned by banks are being left as open sores in all our neighborhoods. In addition all over our country there is a massive tide of cases with errors, forgeries, bogus documents to outright fraud in the foreclosure process. As of today Attorney General's offices from all 50 states have launched probes into these foreclosure irregularities and many banks and states have enacted a moratorium on foreclosures. WELLS FARGO has refused to halt foreclosures for this review.

Here in Memphis many bank owned properties in low income areas are unmaintained, unsecured and uncared for and become magnets for vermin, trash, fires and crime. To make matters worse many of these bank owned properties have years of unpaid back taxes and unpaid code fines. So not only are the the people of Memphis victimized by predatory lending and high rates of home foreclosure, but adding insult to injury WE ALL PAY for the results of predatory lending and lax management of bank owned property and pay higher taxes from increased fires, grass mowing, demolition costs and homeless services costs to cover for their lack of responsible action.

View a BlightWatch video of how Wells Fargo takes care of their properties here.

WHAT: Memphis confronts WELLS FARGO's unethical practices
TIME: 7:30am-9:00am
WHERE: Memphis Botanical Gardens
750 Cherry Road Memphis, TN.
(meet up 7:15am at parking, service road off Cherry north of Botanic Gardens)

*Any questions or if you'd like to volunteer to join us please contact us at 901-725-4990 or at brad@midsouthpeace.orgSee More

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


This property at 3318 Dawn is owned by our old friends at lending "sweetheart" Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo seems to have a special love for screwing the residents of Memphis and Shelby County. As you may have heard...Memphis and Shelby County governments have launched a joint lawsuit against Wells Fargo for discriminatory and predatory lending practices in Black neighborhoods.....but that's not all....Oh no.

In fact Wells Fargo in a bit of insult to injury currently owns a large number of properties within Memphis and Shelby County that they refuse to maintain, thus leaving those costs to the People of Memphis as well.....and i'm just talking about the properties that they actually ADMIT to owning...to say nothing of the scores of properties currently in foreclosure limbo.

However...next Tuesday October 19th at 7:30am-9am Wells Fargo is having a "community" event at the Memphis Botanical Gardens where they will celebrate the acquisition of fellow lending 'sweetheart' Wachovia bank. At this event WF will give out $1000 to eight local nonprofit agencies in a sad and shallow attempt to buy the goodwill of the people of Memphis as well as whitewash their detestable actions in our community. Join us as we not only tell them that we cannot be bought, but also join us as Mid-South Peace and Justice Center members and friends will come to collect the back taxes, and fines and fees owed by Wells Fargo to our community. Watch this space for a more detailed statement tomorrow.

WELLS FARGO DONATIONS at Tuesday's event-$8000

Monday, October 04, 2010


Another small victory as yet another Blightwatch property is receiving some attention from the city of Memphis. This is the Fourth Blightwatch property to be cut in the past two weeks.Sadly there are still three other properties in need of attention on this street, but there is a noticable improvement at 3014 Waverly.
To see what this place looked like before check back a few topics to

Saturday, October 02, 2010


Another small step of progress as we returned out to Decatur street in the New Chicago neighborhood in North Memphis to find that the City of Memphis Div of Community Enhancement has responded by coming out and cutting the grass and excess vegetation on the property. This is a real improvement but is a small passing thing if we cannot ultimately hold the property owner JP MORGAN CHASE accountable. Still we owe a thank you to Community Enhancement for their prompt attention to this matter as this property was cleaned within two weeks after our video launched. To see what the place looked like before check back to our earlier edition to see Blightwatch 5

Link to Blightwatch 14

Thursday, September 30, 2010


A Small piece of good news. It appears that one of the properties featured on a previous edition of BLIGHTWATCH Episode 8 has received some attention from the city of Memphis. The Property at 1077 Ayers is secretly owned by lending giant Wells Fargo via it's subsidiary AMERICA'S SERVICE COMPANY. The good news is since that time the City of MEMPHIS dept of COMMUNITY ENHANCEMENT has cut the high grass around the three lots featured. Now while there is still plenty of work that needs to be done we are glad to see some action on this property. We'd like to thank the Division of Community Enhancement for this prompt attention to this matter. However we will be following up with area residents and with city officials to monitor this situation. The job is far from finished.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010


On this edition of Blightwatch we continue to look into blighted properties in the Orange Mound neighborhood...sadly there are many. Case in point the vacant house at 687 Whittington. This wreck of a house was owned by a local real estate investor who surrendered the property to America's Servicing Company. ASC is a fully owned subsidary of leanding giant WELLS FARGO...however, locally this property is registered under the name of the previous owner. Thus all code fines, health code fines and unpaid taxes are in her name and not in the name of WELLS FARGO despite the fact that this property has been theirs for over three years now. The back taxes on this property amounts to $1773.63.
In addition we take a look at two other vacant properties, one a model on how to secure a vacant, the other...a county owned ruin that is a lawsuit waiting to happen.


Monday, September 27, 2010


Ok...let's take this one slowly....

In this addition of Blightwatch we take a look at a second strange case of what I call "phantom blight". Similar to the the previous addition in BELTLINE
According to federal bankruptcy court records the former owner of this property at 1331 Tunstall surrendered this home to local banking company FIRST BANK in 2007. Since that time not only has First Bank not registered their ownership of said vacant or provided any needed maintenance but it is also important to note that the unpaid taxes on this property amounts to $3571.19.
Thus the unpaid taxes, code and health code fines are all falsely under the name of the previous owner.In addition the costs of cutting the grass and the upcoming board up is all at a cost to local taxpayers and the poor condition of this property negatively effects the public health,safety, economic and quality of life of this community.

In addition to this negligent and grossly irresponsible behavior on the part of First Bank there is another and possibly even more disturbing problem here...

This property at 1331 Tunstall is unlisted in the county registry. Neither the Assessor, Trustee,Register nor City of Memphis Treasurer websites have any listing for 1331 Tunstall. According to these sources the property in question is incorrectly listed as 1329 Tunstall an address that does not physically exist. Now according to those same sources 1329 Tunstall is being seized by Shelby County and will be auctioned off for back taxes. However since the property is NOT 1329 Tunstall but in fact 1331 Tunstall one has to wonder if such a transaction would even be legal among other concerns...

A disturbing number of cases such as this have popped up from time to time and makes me wonder about just how fragile our local ownership directory really is.

Afterall our local officials can only process the information they are given, but if banks are legally allowed to drag their feat about property transactions, then countless numbers of code fines, and back taxes are completely unenforceable. What's worse our local officials have their hands tied. In addition this is a clear case of the need for comprehensive code reorganization and integration of code and code related services and departments. Otherwise...one has to question everything we know about our local tax base and structure. We may be so much more in the dark then even cynics like myself believe.
Click here for video

Friday, September 24, 2010

BLIGHTWATCH 9-New Chicago Owner responds

Just spoke with a Mr Norman with Original Resources Inc in California the owner of this property at 1269 Capital. I explained the condition of his property, the neighborhood complaints and sent a link to this video. We requested that his company not only bring this house up to code, but hire a maintenance company to keep the place in order until they sell it. We are awaiting their reply and preparing to pass this information along to Code enforcement.

Click here for video

Thursday, September 23, 2010


The property at 395 Boston is a breeding ground for snakes, rats and vermin. The problem?.....according to the County Assessor, Register,Trustee and City Treasurer websites, there IS NO 395 BOSTON! Thus code Enforcement has been baffled as to who to hold responsible. The property is incorrectly listed at 385 Boston and... this simple typo is causing harm to residents of this community.

There are according to city/county tax agencies TWO 385 Bostons. One physically at 385 and another which is physically at 395.
Thus Code enforcement has no way of determining who owns this 395 property as they would not know to check the registry of 385. The only reason I knew to do so was because I found the bankruptcy information of the previous owner which has the correct address.

This simple typo and the resulting problems highlights the need for reorganization of all CODE agencies with mandated prompt information sharing between departments.
This problem could and should have been caught sooner.

Now the challenge is determining who created the error in the first place as if it is a government error, then it is relatively easier to fix....however if it was an error made by a former owner who was registering the property...then it would legally require that those same persons correct the mistake. A mistake possibly 10-20 years old.
These people may be very difficult to find and contact...in the meantime the true owner HOMECOMING FINANCIAL owes $3035.99 in unpaid taxes, this does not include the numerous code and health code violation fines and liens.HF has left this property registered under the name of the previous owner thus adding to the confusion in this case.

Click on the link for details.


Friday, September 17, 2010


Another blighted property with a familiar design. This "gem" is secretly owned
by WELLS FARGO subsidiary AMERICA'S SERVICING COMPANY and owes $2555.73
in unpaid taxes. ASC/WF has not registered ownership with local
authorities and as such is guilty of TAX EVASION. via ASC WELLS FARGO owns other blighted properties as well. We will keep a running total for them as well.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Yet another property secretly owned by JP MORGAN CHASE with $1493.42 in unpaid local property taxes. JP MORGAN CHASE current total of MEMPHIS AND SHELBY COUNTY back taxes=$18,235.42 not counting... code fines and or liens...

The scheme's sick beauty is that the banks avoid these taxes and fees in a number of ways. In some cases they simply do not bother to register the transfer of property thus leaving the previous owner "on the hook" with the fines and fees. If they find a buyer then they assert their rights, roll the fines and fees into the sale price and there you go. If they don't want the property or cannot move it, then they just let it sit there under the name of the previous owner until the county seizes it for back taxes...and poof..it's gone. Dirt simple

Another method is simply refusing to take back property surrendered to them in a bankruptcy process. In many such procedures the ruling is that the banks MAY proceed in taking the property, but it does not say that SHALL be required to do so. Thus banks in our crazy system get to pick and chooses which defaulted properties they want and basically let the rest sit in the previous owners name until the County takes them over into the Land Bank and sells it "hopefully" for unpaid taxes. As the original owner has been freed from liability and the banks have refused the surrender, you have a jacked up system where blight is encouraged. and no one is responsible.

However...there are options that communities and neighborhood organizations can use to fight back, which we will be discussing here and in community meetings across the city in the coming weeks.
You Do not have to accept this in our neighborhoods...it does not have to be this way.

Still it's enough to make a person ask...why should any sane person in Shelby County bother paying property taxes if they are only enforced on working class people and the value of your property is not defended?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Banking giant JP MORGAN CHASE secretly owns vacant properties still
registered locally in the name of the previous owner which is a form of
The unpaid taxes on this house=$2099.27.
... JP MORGAN CHASE current total of MEMPHIS AND SHELBY COUNTY back taxes=$16,742 not counting... code fines and or liens...


Another two properties secretly owned by banking giant JP MORGAN CHASE,
yet these properties are still registered locally in the name of the
$10,653.32 in back taxes on these two properties alone. This brings their
current total to $13,642.73. not counting... code fines and or liens...

BLIGHTWATCH 4-Waverly/Messick

‎2977 Waverly. This blighted property is listed under the name of J. Turner, but other documents indicate that REGIONS BANK, may be the responsible party in either case the unpaid city/county taxes for the past FOUR YEARS add up to $5471.50...not counting code fines and liens.

BLIGHTWATCH 3-Waverly/Messick

Locally based FIRST BANK calls Itself, "COMMUNITY BANKING AT ITS BEST" and "WHERE YOU MATTER MOST" However FIRST BANK owns the vacant at 3004 Waverly and has avoided paying TAXES and keeping the property up to CODE for the past 3 YEARS!
FIRST BANK's current total of unpaid taxes...$2106.95

Blightwatch 2-Evelyn and the Shadow inventory

Another vacant in the Rozelle-Annesdale neighborhood.
Oddly enough the original owner was foreclosed on in 2007 yet the bank even after three years has yet to register their ownership of this property. So not only is banking giant JP MORGAN CHASE guilty of numerous code and health violations..they are guilty of Tax evasion!
The property at 1916 Evelyn is three years behind in back taxes.Thus JP MORGAN BANK OWES $4009.68 to MEMPHIS and SHELBY COUNTY
I'll be keeping score as to how much that adds up to as we go on...This is but the tip of the iceberg in the Memphis Shadow Inventory!

BLIGHTWATCH part 1-Evelyn

A tour of vacant and blighted properties in Memphis. This property on Evelyn is killing the neighborhood around it. This property has been vacant for 15 years according to local residents and despite numerous calls to Code enforcement, the Health dept. and the Mayor's service hotline, nothing has ever been done. In fact the door is covered with notices from Code enforcement, but what's the point of placing notices on a vacant building. The people in this area need action...in addition we will be taking a serious look at the irresponsible property owners that created this situation in the first place.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

PUBLIC ISSUES FORUM Benjamin Hooks Public Library Sunday August 22 · 3:00pm - 5:00pm

Benjamin Hooks Public Library
Sunday August 22 · 3:00pm - 5:00pm

Alternative Justice Within Our System That Just May Work Better
Exploring Restorative Justice, Collaborative Law, Holistic Law, Mediation, VORP, and Long Term Lockup. Panel includes: Jean Handley, Veronica Coleman-Davis, Linda Seely, and Maureen Holland.

Panel Speakers:

Jean Handley - Founder and director of Turning Point Partners, a non profit that educates, trains and models Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices in government and educational systems and community and faith based organizations and neighborhoods. She has been a restorative practitioner for ten years, working both nationally and internationally to create healing, restoration and peaceful processes in areas of conflict and need.

Veronica F. Coleman-Davis - President/CEO of the National Institute for Law & Equity (NILE) NILE is a public policy institute that focuses on the criminal and juvenile justice system and how it impacts us as
a society. Her experience in the criminal and juvenile justice systems spans over 30 years and she has served as an Assistant Public Defender, private practice as a criminal defense lawyer, Assistant District Attorney, Juvenile Court Referee Judge and U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

Linda Warren Seely - Currently working in Memphis as Director of Pro Bono Projects at Memphis Area Legal Services since 2004 and serves as Secretary for the Memphis Bar Association and will become President of the Memphis Bar in December of 2012. Awarded the Tennessee Bar Association President’s Award at the TBA Annual Conference in June of 2006 for work on Stand Up and Deliver initiative and in June of 2009 for work on the For All Initiative. Recognized by the Memphis Woman Magazine as one of 50 Women Who Make a Difference in August. Past President of the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women (2005-2006).

Maureen T. Holland, Esq.- A practicing holistic attorney and has been for nearly a decade. She makes a concerted effort to have a "conscientious legal practice" whereby there is greater client-care, more legal counseling, an effort at better civility during the process, and an integration of information and problem-solving approaches from other disciplines.

There will be time for questions. The meeting is free and open to the public.

The Public Issues Forum is a Memphis voluntary association, which sponsors programs to inform and educate the public on current issues and seeks to reinforce the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Public Issues Forum P.O. Box 241011 Memphis TN 38124-1011

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Issues First Neighborhood Summit-July 14th



Memphis, Tennessee-Friday, July 9, 2010- Foreclosures in the Memphis market have flooded neighborhoods with vacancies, devalued properties and contributed to some of our most serious social ills.

At the Neighborhood and Community Action Summit on Wednesday, July 14 at First Congregational Church, members of Neighborhood and Homeowner Associations, residents of affected communities and public officials &candidates for the August 3rd election will discuss the state of the county and how we can combat blight in a comprehensive manner.

Confirmed attendees include:
2010 Mayoral Candidates Mayor Joe Ford & Sheriff Mark Lutrell
Sheriff Candidate Randy Wade
County Commissioners Steve Mulroy & Henri Brooks
Register of Deeds Tom Leatherwood
Shelby County Trustee Regina Morrison-Newman

Foreclosed properties litter the communities with vacancies, opening the neighborhood to higher crime, violence and fires.

“We are seeking to promote connected and holistic solutions. Not only will reducing blight improve the quality of life of thousands within our community but can also save tax payers millions of dollars” says Brad Watkins, Organizing Coordinator of the Summit and Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. Beyond the Neighborhood and Community Action , Issues First will continue to engage communities in seeking solutions and holding governmental and financial institutions accountable.

MSPJC is a community based organization working to educate, organize, and mobilize communities to realize social justice through nonviolent action. For over 27 years they have worked in our communities to achieve social, economic, racial and environmental justice through education, training, and community organizing. The Issues First Campaign is seeking to inform and educate towards solutions through voter engagement and grassroots community organizing.

What: The Neighborhood and Community Action Summit
When: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 6:30
Where: First Congregational Church
1000 South Cooper St
Memphis, TN 38104


Thursday, June 24, 2010

PUBLIC ISSUES FORUM-Supreme Court Decision Discussion


LOCATION: Benjamin Hooks Library - 3030 Poplar Ave - Memphis

Facts and Implications of the recent Supreme Court Decision allowing
unlimited Corporate Contributions to Campaign Finance.


Dr. Heather Larsen-Price is an assistant professor in the political science department at the University of Memphis where she teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in American politics and research methods. Her broad research interests include American political institutions, public policy processes, as well as decision making and information processing. She specializes in presidency studies. Her research has been published in American Political Science Review, The Journal of Politics, and Political Research Quarterly.

Steve Mulroy is a tenured professor at the University of Memphis School of Law, where he teaches constitutional law, criminal law, constitutional criminal procedure, and civil rights. He has published scholarly articles in the areas of voting rights and election law. He also serves as a Shelby County Commissioner, first elected in 2006, and has worked on election reform issues both locally and nationally as an advocate and litigator. Before coming to Memphis, he did voting rights litigation for the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. Both his blood type and his chirpy personal motto are "B positive."

There will be time for questions. The meeting is free and open to the public.

The Public Issues Forum is a Memphis voluntary association, which sponsors programs to inform and educate the public on current issues and seeks to reinforce the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Public Issues Forum P.O. Box 241011 Memphis TN 38124-1011.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nimby Paradox 3- The Search for Stats

Today the City Council Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, these ordinances will now go before the full body for three readings before final approval.
There is still no word on where the Exempt zones where passive panhandling will be located.

Still it's important that the passage of laws and the conducting of public business be done in a manner that does not cater to divisive fears and serious forethought and caution should be urged in the passing of new laws. These things have consequences.

So any discussion about these ordinances should deal with the facts at hand and need to be shown in the proper context.

Case in point the CCC frequently cites the Alcohol Impact Areas in Seattle and Tacoma Washington as examples of how banning single beers can result in positive benefits for the community. However it should be pointed out that the AIA's in Tacoma and Seattle are in no way an across the board single beer ban. These bans only effect specific brands and types of high octane ice beers, fortified wines and malt liquor. This is problematic as...

A. Tennessee has stricter alcohol and beer laws than Washington state.Thus alot of the banned products sold in Seattle and Tacoma local stores was not legal for our stores to sell anyway. Others while legal here are not even sold at these stores.

B. Wine products like Maddog and Wild irish Rose are not legal in our stores now.

Seattle’s Proposed Banned Products List (corrected
revised) (To include all container sizes, alcohol content, and flavors)
Beer and Malt Products – 23
Bull Ice
Busch Ice
Colt 45 Ice
Colt 45 Malt Liquor
Hurricane Ice Malt Liquor
Keystone Ice
Lucky Ice Ale Premium
Mickey’s Iced Brewed Ale
Mickey’s Malt Liquor
Miller High Life Ice
Milwaukee Best Ice
Milwaukee Best Premium Ice Beer
Natural Ice**
Old Milwaukee Ice
Olde English 800
Pabst Ice
Rainier Ale
Red Bull Malt Liquor
Red Dog*
Schmidt’s Ice
Special 800 Reserve
St. Ide’s Liquor and Special Brews
Steel Reserve
Wine Products - 6
Gino’s Premium Blend
MD 20/20
Night Train Express
Richard’s Wild Irish Rose

*The city of Seattle sent a request on August 11, 2006 to add Red Dog beer to the list
of banned products since there was evidence that this product attributed to the CPI
**Natural Ice was on the original banned products list from the city of Seattle but was
mistakenly omitted from the list provided here.
The original proposed banned products list from the city of Seattle contained six beer
products that were found to no longer be sold. The city sent a request on August 11,
2006 to remove those products from their banned products list as follows:
Hamm’s Ice Brewed Ale Hamm’s Ice Brewed Beer King Cobra Malt Liquor
Lucky Ice Magnum Malt Olympia Ice

...But if they want to make comparisons..fine let's make comparisons.

Unlike in Tennessee,in Washington state public intoxication is not a misdemeanor but a ticketable offense only. THIS IS A MAJOR DISTINCTION.We already have more enforcement options than Seattle or Tacoma under existing law.

Also even the study that the CCC cites about the impact of the Tacoma AIA does not give the AIA all of the credit..in fact it concludes that some of the area improvements might have happened without the AIA. There were other factors at play..including.Increased police attention to the problem, A volunteer clean up movement and the opening of a NEW TACOMA RESCUE MISSION.The study concludes that it just focused people on the problem...well..we are already focused on the issue.

After the passage of the Tacoma and Seattle's AIAs. City residents report that the problem of public intox and issues of homelessness moved to other parts of the city
a notable case is the Eastside neighborhood in Tacoma which became one destination for those with an alcohol addictions.Now Eastside is thinking about an AIA of their own.
Also Narrows Bridge area has seen an increase as well.

I'd also like to mention that Seattle leads the nation in supportive housing for chronic and extreme alcohol addiction via the 1811 EASTLAKE center.Which reduced public intox related crimes dramatically in Downtown Seattle, by providing supportive housing for the 75 top homeless chronic public inebriates. BTW it did so as well as saved Seattle 4 million dollars in Criminal justice and Emergency medical costs.

So if we are gonna copycat best practices and all......

Now..no one is saying that Aggressive panhandling is not a problem it most certainly is..but the key here is putting that problem in it's proper context.
The CCC claims that 35% of non downtown residents do not come downtown more often because they have concerns about Public/Safety and crime. That is a true number according to their own market survey. However that same survey shows some other things as well.

I do go Downtown often 4.9%

Public Safety/Crime 34%
Parking is inconvenient 17.7%
Too far to drive 15.8%
Not interested in Downtown activities 12.5%
Parking is Expensive 11.4%
Don't know why I don't go/think of it 7.6%
Too Expensive "other than parking specifically" 7.1%
BOTHERED BY PANHANDLERS "Homeless,Street people.etc" 4.6%
No public Transportation available 3.8%
Cleanliness of Downtown 2.4%
Don't know what's happening downtown 2.2%
Other-traffic/navigation of the streets 3.0%
other-My health/age 3.0%
Other Not enough events/nothing to do there 3.0%
Other Too crowded 0.8%
Other-General single mentions 3.2%

So looking at that in the proper context..I think we need to dial down the fear baiting and really take a good long and hard look at what will be the impact of the passage of these ordinances here and find an alternative solution.

Don't say I did not warn you.

Next up Nimby Paradox 4- The quest for treatment.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nimby Paradox 2-The Wrath of CON

It is said that bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny, if that be the case then the new ordinances proposed by the Center City Commission definately apply.

These new laws would outlaw the sale of single beers and create a NO-panhandling zone with the boundaries of a small part of the Central Business Improvement District or CBID for short.These laws would allegedly have the effect of curbing Aggressive panhandling downtown. Which is a problem, however these laws are not the solution.

Let's take a moment to look at the important aspect and shortcoming of this approach, and in a word that would be the enforcement of these proposed laws.
To repeat, Aggressive panhandling is already illegal everywhere in the city of Memphis. Thus all of Memphis is a no-panhandling zone for Aggressive panhandling This law does not effect Aggressive panhandling as anyone who does so is already breaking the law. Thus a zone makes as much sense as a no mugging zone..or a no assault zone and will have equal results. This law deals with passive panhandling despite how it's being presented.

Yesterday I wrote about the moral hazard of the creation of exempt zones within the borders of the CBID. In this/these areas passive panhandling would be permitted. The problem as I have continually asked is WHERE WILL THE EXEMPT ZONES BE LOCATED? I ask this because this is not spelled out in the language of the ordinance itself...but moving along...
Now some might say, "Well Brad, let's just not have those exempt zones in the first place?" and that would be a fair question. The answer is that without the exempt zones this new ordinance may not survive judicial scrutiny....even with the exempt zone..this law has some problems.

*The law has some constitutional concerns. As courts have ruled that panhandling is a form of free speech. While local governments can limit the times and places of such activities they have also ruled that content based regulations must be narrowly tailored to promote a compelling governmental interest. The ordinance in addition to the creation of the Anti panhandling zone also places new myriad boundaries on panhandling outside the zone. Such as 50ft from a health care location, bank, or lending institution or ATM
20ft from the entrance to a pay phone, bus stop, public building,self serve gas station,car wash, marked crosswalk,church..or vendor. In fact the law even states 20 ft from a line of people waiting to get in to somewhere.
Now..it's already illegal to panhandle AT these locations, but the boundaries are so big that it creates some serious unforeseen consequences.

Now according to the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty and the Southern Legal Center,"Two of the nation's leading homeless advocacy organizations this law may not be narrowly tailored enough to withstand judicial scrutiny.The National Coalition for the Homeless also shares these concerns.

Also when passing a law people must have a reasonable ability to be able to comply and law enforcement must have a reasonable ability to be able to enforce the law.
These restrictions frequently over lap and thus create a de facto ban on all panhandling over huge areas. Thus a person may be 50' away from an ATM..but by moving that far is now in violation of a Church. and last time I checked..aren't most if not all gas stations at intersections? Thus the only places where passive panhandling would be legal would be areas of high blight or more residential areas and parks..just what those neighborhoods need.

Also one has to ask, if this law is passed,unless the city is going to set out and map and publicly label all these areas..'on the City's dime" there will be serious enforcement issues with each citation written."Was that 20ft..or 19ft?...and how does one prove that without clear markers?"

The National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty has faxed a letter to the City Council offices explaining their legal opinion and citing relevant case law and offering themselves as a resource for alternative options. We ask that the Council Attorney see this letter and confer with these agencies before action be taken.

Next, I think we need to have a serious conversation about real solutions to the problems of panhandling for the ENTIRE community. Again according to the CCC we are only talking about 35-50 people who are supposedly causing all the problems here. Yet in other cities where these laws have been passed the homeless population frequently bear the brunt of laws such as these.

We have two county programs called Jericho and the Drug Court both are national models for dealing with offenders with mental illness and serious addiction issues out of the criminal justice system.Yet these programs are seriously underfunded. Drug Court's program for addicted mothers with children is in serious danger.
Locking up and fining offenders up over and over again costs all of us about $87-112 dollars per inmate per day...and 70% of these offenders are going in and out of 201 poplar.

Drug Court and Jericho cost $8-9 dollars per person per day and have a success rate of 50-67%..

"Getting tough on panhandlers" may make a person popular, but using law enforcement alone to deal with with these issues is neither effective nor practical.

So here's what often happens. a person gets a citation for panhandling.If they go to court most often the charges are dismissed. If they are arrested for aggressive panhandling and for some reason do jail time..they are out in a short period of time..as they cannot afford to post the standard $100-250 bond...they end up costing the 201 more money than it's worth to hold, cite and process them and fills jail space needed for dangerous criminals. Also by the time they go to court they have already served close to the maximum sentence time served...normally for Disorderly conduct. So there's often no point in spending more public money to maybe hold someone another week or two.
The problem is not and has never been that Cops are not writing citations or are somehow "sleeping on the job"...the problem is writing citations and making arrests on these type of crimes is a losing proposition with this rate of recidivism. Cops alone are not the answer...it more complicated than that and this law will only make the glut at 201 worse while solving nothing. Have you even been to General Sessions at around 8:55?...it can be a madhouse.

A better option would be undercover officers who could observe direct violations. That way enforcement of these laws would be specific to the offender and not target the homeless. The main problem with panhandling laws is that they are "criminal' cases, which makes them much harder to prosecute because odds are the officer did not personally witness the act, the citation is poorly written...and/or the victim if an out of town tourist will not come back to town just to go to court.
In fact I know a retired Public Defender who said that if he wanted to he could get 90% of these cases thrown out if had wanted to.
Once these offenders are in court..."surprisingly, i'm told most do show up." They can either be channeled into treatment options or in some cases outreach can be performed to contact their relatives or service providers who can take a role in getting them off the streets, in some cases out of town relatives came and got them and they left town with them.
That would in time would leave a smaller number of folks for the cops to deal with.

This is very very similar to something we used to do here in the city of Memphis according to a former Asst District Attorney and others in the Criminal Justice system who worked on these cases in that time and there were REAL results. While you are never going to completely stop this behavior..it did curb it.

Now with undercover patrols, you would not need to saturate the area with cops and MPD forces could be deployed to higher crime neighborhoods. Downtown is the statistically safest part of Memphis. We need to stop the fear mongering and find real solutions that work for the ENTIRE community.

We are currently working and reaching out to the the Malt Beverage Association individuals in the Criminal Justice system as well as the National Coalition For the Homeless and local store owners to find a real solution to this problem that includes enforcement with a strong outreach, treatment and rehabilitation aspect.

If we want to solve the problem..we can, but it will take a holistic approach to the issue and being mindful of how best to deal with the roots causes of this situation and this is addiction.

Next up....we talk about data in Nimby Paradox 3-the Search for Stats

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Panhandling Quick fix...or NIMBY paradox?

The worst laws passed in history are those passed based on broad appeals to emotion without a clear and objective view of the situation and solutions. The two new proposed ordinances sponsored by the Center City Commission stand as the latest local examples of this phenomenon.
They include the creation of a Single beer ban and the expansion of the local panhandling ordinance to create a ANTI-PANHANDLING zone both in set within the boundaries of the Central Business Improvement District in part of Downtown Memphis.

Now I and others have already blogged at length about this subject, so rather than rehash all of that I will simply direct you to these posts of mine on the subject Here and Here Others have also made similar observations which you can read Here and Here
I think these sum things up nicely

...But let's take a step back to point out some of the central and core flaws of these proposed pieces of legislation.
The Anti Panhandling zone, if you read the legislation calls for the creation of exempt zones, places where Passive Panhandling would be permitted withing the CBID. Passive Panhandling involves a person holding a sign..not speaking or communicating verbally unless such conversation is initiated by the potential donor. In this/these areas those who panhandle will be able to legally ask for donations.
That sounds reasonable right?...well that clause was included to help this law get past judicial scrutiny. You see you cannot ban Panhandling outright....more on this later.

Well here is the major problem....the ordinance does not say WHERE this Exempt zone will be. It states that a committee made up of members of the CCC and MPD will later..."does not say when" decide where this/these zones will be located and review the situation there semi annually.

So..I pose to you where do you think this Exempt zone will be?....and why is this not already decided?...i think it already has..but i'll play fair here.

Well let's see the CBID is not a large area geographically with borders roughly from MILL to the North, Vance to the South, Riverside to the West and Third to Fourth to the East. Okay so where within this area would you put this exempt zone?

Well we already can safely assume that this area will not be near Beale street..nor will it be near the Cannon Center. It's also safe to say that it will not be near Peabody place, the Fed-Ex forum, the Peabody Hotel or the Pinch district. Ok..so what's left?

Hmm...well if you place the Exempt zone near the area of Vance and 3rd or 2nd you have an area that's more or less vacant except for Raiford's and some commercial businesses.
OK...problem solved..."shakes head" No because if you place the zone there nobody walks down there. So the passive panhandlers will make no change and thus will leave the zone to go back to the tourist areas. Of course by then the Cops will be watching for them to do this and "try" to run them back out of the zone. Hmmm...so what do you think the passive panhandlers will do then?....here's a hint....where do tourists and pedestrians go that's South of Vance?...South Main district.

Ok..so that did not work out...let's try again.
How about the vacant area to the northside of the CBID just east of the Pinch?....no too close to St Jude.
Further to the North of that?..no getting into Uptown and the Mata station.

See the problem here is no matter where you place the exempt zone you either have to place it somewhere folks go, in which case the people and businesses there will get mad. Or you place it somewhere no one goes, in which case the Passive panhandlers have no reason to stay and are motivated to either violate the law..or go to adjacent areas.

It should be pointed out that this law would only affect passive panhandlers those folks are not the problem anyway
...Aggressive panhandling is already a criminal act anywhere in the city..and if this law passes the penalty for violation would remain the same as it is now. Whether inside or outside the zone. So if you are already a criminal...and the penalty for violation is the same in either case...why would you care about a "Zone"? Honestly..objectively..why would you care?

Now don't get me wrong...no one is saying that Aggressive panhandling is right..or ok..or something that should be tolerated. However when making laws we need to dial down the emotions and think about the consequences of these actions and find effective solutions. Treatment and outreach for those with serious substance abuse issues has to be a part of that conversation..without it..you cannot solve the problem.

Now speaking of laws..my next post will deal with the myriad enforcement issues of this ordinance. Here's a hint...you can't.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"It's not what you spend, it's what you spend it on"

Another very long one pack a lunch......sorry but it's been a while.

First of all I want to thank all those who volunteered to help in the city's homeless count last week. This years count was designed to allow the city to receive greater demographic data about those unsheltered individuals in the city.
This year's count marked a departure from previous efforts in a number of ways. For one it took place during the day as opposed to night. Hitting meal services and other daytime hot spots and a survey in an effort to find and receive up to date data directly from those on the streets who might be to difficult to find at night. It also did not have a down in front law enforcement presence in order to put the minds of those on the streets at ease. This effort was very successful as this years count doubled the number of unsheltered persons found by last years count. In my view a vindication of the method.

Our thanks and a job well done to Katie Kitchin, formerly the director of Norfolk VA, Ten Year Plan To End Homelessness, now a consultant for the City of Memphis for spearheading this effort. Ms Kitchin has been a strong advocate for Housing First strategies and was a key player in Norfolk reducing their homeless population by 20+% in just a few years. She is now working with a broad array of individuals from government, service providers, advocates and the private sector in the form of a planning committee to create a new Ten year plan for Memphis, under the leadership of HCD/MHA director Robert Lipscomb, and the Wharton Administration

As one of the member organizations on this multifaceted committee, I can say that the agenda involves identifying best practices from all over the country for their possible implementation here in Memphis. Also with some of the structural changes underway in the city's homeless services network, it possible that Memphis at the end of this process will qualify for a substantial increase in federal aid to address and prevent homelessness.
Still this is a major undertaking and we hope to help engage the community in support of positive efforts on this front.

One of the things that the P&J is working on is to promote a heightened awareness of how homelessness effects all of the residents of the city. Of course we all know that most people are but a paycheck away from being homeless themselves, but in addition to that we are trying to show that policies that reduce homelessness are not simply morally right but also from a fiscal standpoint is the practical and correct thing to do. We have a strong and compassionate community but many in our community have a "not my problem" attitude towards the plight of the homeless and in these times of financial difficulty programs for the poor, the mentally ill and for substance abuse issues are often the first ones to feel the pinch. Thus we have to change the narrative from that of "charity" to that of "practical self interest".

For example in our criminal justice system it currently cost county tax payers $87-90 per person per day to incarcerate an individual at 201 poplar. Those nonviolent offenders who are among the homeless in general cannot make bail due to hardship and due to the fact that we have inconsistent bail levels and as a result generally stay in jail until their court date,which by that point they are normally released time served or the charges are dropped as the time they have served is about half or in some cases near the maximum sentence in some cases. This costs the taxpayers a great deal of money and ties up resources that could be put to better use elsewhere in the CJ system.

Last year we worked with Sheriff Luttrell and Bill Powell of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in successfully advocating to the County Commission for alternatives to incarceration for those with substance abuse and mental health issues, By spending 2.3 million dollars on programs like the Drug Court, and Jericho,Pre-trial diversion etc... this is projected to free up 200 beds this year at 201 poplar, and thus save county tax payers an estimated 4.1 million dollars this year.Thus jail overcrowding, moral and fiscal concerns were addressed at the same time.

One of our major concerns has always been that the neighborhoods north and south of Downtown/Midtown,"NORTH-Bearwater-Caldwell,New Chicago,Klondike,Hollywood-Springdale, Douglass..etc and SOUTH Vance/Orleans, Riverview-Kansas, Glenview, The Works,South Memphis, Orange Mound and Beltline" all have VERY high rates of vacant housing and properties. Our concerns being the likelihood that as the homeless are moved from out of certain parts of the city that incidents of squatting will continue to increase which in turn can contribute to fires and emergency medical costs, damage to property and the potential for violence against the homeless.We are also concerned that this could make the outreach work performed by service providers more difficult and make those on the streets harder to find and thus harder to assist. By my best estimations a residential fire can cost the city as much as 30 thousands dollars in related costs.
911 calls in some cases can result in cost totaling up to as much as 1-5 thousand dollars per call. To say nothing of the related medical emergency room costs to the MED and other medical care providers. Adding those in addition to the costs of Law Enforcement man hours,Code enforcement resources and Criminal justice related costs, it's easy to see how even a small number of people on the streets living in vacant houses can cost the city up to three to five times the cost of providing affordable housing and Permanent supportive housing. As I have said before..it's not what you spend..it's what you spend it on.

One of the things we are trying to research is the number of fires in vacant commercial and vacant residential properties caused as a result of homeless individuals "squatting". We are overjoyed to be working in partnership with Memphis Fire Dept and Emergency Medical Services the coming months to complete this research and to perform community outreach and advocacy work to show not only the number and frequency of these incidents but also show the cost of resources for these and other related events. This way the public can better understand how having a homeless population impacts their pocketbooks and that policies that reduce homelessness can potentially save the city large sums of taxpayer dollars. This could help promote the human needs of our brothers and sisters on the streets,reduce fires and EMS calls and address blight at the same time.

"Intermission....go grab a snack"

Another thing which I'd like to "briefly" touch on is how the number of vacant lots within the city of Memphis. By my estimates we have about 14-15k vacant lots in the urban core alone, and 3000+ of those lots are county owned and many have foundations from the previous structures. These lots cost Shelby County a lot of money to maintain and upkeep, and are a drag on the city/county's resources. In addition vacant lots contribute to blight and can serve as a health risk as vacant lots often become illegal dumping ground that serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes and rats. So..what does any of this have to do with homelessness or affordable housing?...
Well back in the early days of the reconstruction of the Gulf coast from Hurricane Katrina, Fema in reaction to the substandard conditions created the Katrina cottages, for use as alternative housing for those needing temporary shelter while their homes were being rebuilt. These cosy and historic looking constructed units are incredibly energy efficient."Energy cost topping out at around $800-900 dollars a year" are made from rot and termite highly resistant materials and are portable up to 500 miles.

Since their use in the Gulf coast many have seen the promise of these cottages as a inexpensive, quickly build source of housing. In fact I have learned that many other municipalities across the country are exploring the idea of Katrina cottages for use as affordable housing as well as commercially as rental guest properties or small homes for single retires and in some cases small communities of cottages as seed housing. See Here
In fact even hardware giant Lowe's has gotten in on the act. See Here
Now for 37-47k per unit we can provide transitional and supportive housing for a significant portion of the homeless population in a relatively short time period. That's significantly cheaper and quicker than the city can traditionally provide new housing...by a factor of four in some cases.

But if that's too rich for your blood..that's okay.. there may be an even cheaper option

In Mississippi,as this phase of the reconstruction draws to a close I have learned from Ashley Edwards, the Deputy Director of Mississippi's office of Recovery and Renewal that they are expected to have a surplus of up to 300 Katrina cottages with appliances included by this summer. These cottages will be sold at auction at a substantial savings due to several factors..

One, while the houses are cheap, it's still hard to get a mortgage for the land to put it on. We have no such problem here with our 3000+ county owned lots

Two, due to their location on the gulf coast there are significant code,hurricane foundation and sea level considerations that Memphis does not have.

Three, regional non profits cannot simply afford the early expenses, in more than limited and smaller scale ways. Still it's worth noting that Habitat for Humanity has been using cottages and then adding on to them to create larger homes up to 1300 sft for as little as 72k.

So it seems to me that this is an idea worth pursuing and we will be staying in touch with Mr Edwards about this topic and will be gathering all the available data to see all the in's and outs of this potential process and make presentations to the community, government and private sector interests in hopes of moving this forward.

Lack of Affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness and the biggest barrier out of it. Perhaps with Katrina cottages we can provide housing and reduce vacant lots and in the long term create tax revenue for the city and county at the same time.

Or not...it's up to you.