MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County leaders are trying to save one of the most historic neighborhoods in the United States. Property values in Orange Mound are falling, and Shelby County Assessor Melvin Burgess wants to create a plan to help before the point of no return.
“I'm just ecstatic and elated that someone has come forward to save one of the greatest communities in the United States,” Orange Mound stakeholder LaVaughn Bridges said.
At the turn of the century, Orange Mound was established. It was one of the first neighborhoods in the country to be created by African-Americans.
For the last 10 years, property values have been dropping.
“Looking at Orange Mound, I found property owned by residents living in predominately black neighborhoods in the inner city of Memphis has lost 30 percent of their value,” Burgess said.
Burgess said he looked at Orange Mound’s property values after a study came out by the Brookings Institute saying properties in predominately black neighborhoods were valued as much as 50 percent less than similar homes in predominately white areas.
“When I first started to sell this house, I could get $19,000,” Orange Mound homeowner Wendell Payton said. “Now it's $11,000.”
“Orange Mound is surrounded by areas increasing in value--Chickasaw Gardens, Cooper Young, University of Memphis,” Burgess said.
Now, Burgess is asking the County Commission to consider a moratorium on demolishing vacant and blighted properties in Orange Mound and create a task force to focus on increasing property values.
Burgess said about 8-10 percent of Orange Mound lots are vacant or blighted, and he sees an opportunity to rehab them for future homeowners.
Commissioner Mark Billingsley says he will do more research then make a decision on such a major request like a moratorium.
“I think the plan will work if we work with the plan,” Bridges said.
Burgess said this is just the beginning-- he plans to assess neighborhoods across the county in this way.