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Better Memphis: Anti-Poverty Plan

Better Memphis: Anti-Poverty Plan

After my election in 2015, our transition team developed a multi-faceted plan to reduce poverty, restore neighborhoods, and enhance communities. Many people talk about reducing poverty; we have taken action by executing and expanding on our plan from day one.

At my swearing-in as mayor on January 1, 2016, I said “the great challenge for the next Mayor of Memphis will be addressing the unacceptable level of poverty that is crippling Memphis’ progress and leaving another generation without the opportunity to thrive and succeed. Memphis is a stark “Tale of Two Cities” where the disproportional gap between the wealthy and the poor has grown exponentially”.  At that time:

29.8 percent of Memphis residents lived below the poverty line.  
47 percent of children in Memphis were living in poverty.  
191,609 of the population in Memphis lived on less than the federal poverty level.

Pre-COVID-19, those numbers had dropped slightly to

27.8 percent of Memphis residents live below the poverty line.  
44.9 percent of children in Memphis are living in poverty.  
176,764 of the population in Memphis lives on less than the federal poverty level.

These numbers are too high, and too many of our neighbors are still suffering. We still have much we must accomplish.

The Better Memphis Anti-Poverty Plan

1. Early childhood education and literacy  
2. Housing  
3. Hunger, nutrition and food insecurity 
4. Homelessness 
5. Asset building 
6. Aging and senior services 
7. Blight and trash in Memphis 
8. Population growth and developing the inner city 
9. Livability and environment 
10. Parks, community centers, and libraries 

Research shows that early childhood education pays dividends not just later in childhood but also well into adulthood. Children who attend Pre-K are not only much more likely than their peers to be ready for Kindergarten, they are also more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. In addition to focusing on early childhood education, adults who fell through the cracks of the education system must also be targeted.  

• Work with partners to expand Pre-K and continue the push for universal Pre-K.  
• Commit city lobbying efforts toward protecting and securing funding for universal 
• Promote adult education and literacy resources and lead effort to increase enrollment. 

Where we are today
I’m proud to say in conjunction with the Memphis City Council, Shelby County Government and Shelby County Commission, we found an innovative way to fund and ensure every child that needs it will have access to universal Pre-K.  In addition, everywhere I go I promote adult education through Tennessee Promise which is a scholarship, mentoring and community service program that began fall semester 2015. It provides students (young and more seasoned) a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the Tennessee Promise will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell Grant, the HOPE scholarship, or TSAA funds for any Tennessean that wants to further their education. 

At the beginning of this year, we also created the Public Service Corps. This program offers part-time work to men and women to help clean up our city, while at the same time getting them enrolled in one of our local technical or community colleges by utilizing the Tennessee Promise program. The participants work hard and get the opportunity for the better life through education.

Housing costs, and the burdens that accompany these costs for many homeowners and renters in our community, are a growing crisis in Memphis. It will be a major focus of the Strickland administration to reduce housing burdens for Memphis residents and families.  

• Use historic preservation tax credits. 
• Explore new revenue sources for affordable housing. 
• Expand oversight for unacceptable and dangerous living conditions. 
• Better coordinate existing housing activities and goals. 
• Streamline systems that are unnecessarily increasing the costs of housing development.
• Modernize housing data systems. 
• Reexamine the performance of key housing regulations, programs, and policies. 

Where we are today 
Historic tax credits are used on the redevelopment of historic buildings, however Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) are most applicable to reducing housing burden.  Since 2016, the City has received a number of allocations of competitive 9% LIHTC for projects in South City and Frayser, as well as several noncompetitive 4% LIHTC project allocations. In addition, we use tax incentives for the renovation and construction of affordable, quality housing. As a result, over 5,000 units of affordable housing have been completed or are under development.

Additionally, in last year’s budget we created the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. To date, we have awarded over $900k to 11 nonprofit agencies. 

City Code Enforcement responds to property maintenance issues, and the City has responded to a number of pressing matters, including the relocation of over 40 residents from Warren and Tulane Apartments in 2016 due to poor living conditions.

HCD coordinates with all of the agencies that incentivize housing within the City of Memphis.  The Memphis 3.0 Plan provides a broad framework to coordinate incentives for housing in neighborhoods, and HCD is currently working on refining broader housing goals.

The Division of Planning & Development has streamlined (in 2018) its approval process, both electronically and its physical space. HCD has been working with Innovate Memphis to develop and electronic application process for home repair programs, as well as program participant tracking.  The City Office of Performance Management has also developed a database that will track all HCD-funded investments in housing.


Not having enough to eat and not having good quality, nutritious food can have short- and long-term effects on mental and physical health. Curbing food insecurity and ending food deserts will be a priority.  

• Increase incomes by working to create more jobs. 
• Work to educate healthy food choices. 
• Encourage and promote African-American entrepreneurship in the food system arena.
• Seek to expand programs that give kids snacks and meals to get through the weekend. 
• Make Memphis a national leader in supporting the rights of breastfeeding mothers

Where we are today
Creating more good paying jobs for Memphians has always been a priority. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our city was experiencing billions in private sector investment, An historically low unemployment rates, and over 20,000 more Memphians working than when we took office in 2016.

To date, we have successfully encouraged two grocers to move back to underserved areas of our city—SuperLo in Orange Mound, and the CASHSAVER on South Third. 

When Shelby County Schools closed earlier this year due to COVID-19 and announced that it would not be able to conduct the children’s feeding program it had previously announced due to a positive COVID-19 test, the City of Memphis stepped in to help.

In partnership with the YMCA, we continued the summer feeding program that Shelby County Schools had previously planned to use. The City committed eight vans, four box trucks and drivers, 30 community and senior centers and their staff, and eight libraries and their staff to setting up and running the feeding sites. 

It was a city-wide effort with most of the vans coming from Parks and Neighborhoods, the box trucks coming from Libraries and the drivers coming from General Services. All in, at one point, there were roughly 100 City of Memphis staff members working on the feeding program full-time and another 50 working 28 hours a week on the project. The first three weeks of the program saw many changes and various configurations of City equipment and leased equipment to get the food delivered by 10 a.m. to more than 50 sites each morning.

The University of Memphis came into the partnership and leveraged their relationship with their food vendor, Chartwell, who provided the food to the YMCA.  As the number of meals increased and space became challenging, the Mid-South Food Bank partnered with us for cold storage and became our distribution hub.   The City served as the main contributor to YMCA, who continues to lead the project today, until June when YMCA pivoted to a longer-term, less-volunteer driven model. 

Today, the City still staffs 18 feeding locations at community centers and libraries. As of July 29, the partnership has delivered 1.3 million meals to the young people of Memphis.

Early in my first term we crafted policy for employees who are nursing mothers. This policy acknowledges the importance of breast-feeding for both mother and baby and supports those employees who continue to breast- feed upon their return from Maternity leave for up to one year after the birth of the child. Additionally, we offer lactation rooms at 36 locations across our City of Memphis properties.

The Strickland administration will make strides to further reduce homelessness within the city and will focus particularly on the needs of homeless veterans.  

• Work with partners to end veteran homelessness. 
• Take short-term actions to help homeless, including a new shelter plan. 
• Pursue long-term plans to reduce and eventually end homelessness.  

Where we are today
The City works with a wide range of partners to address homelessness, including Community Alliance for Homelessness, Hospitality Hub, MIFA, and a host of other providers. The City commits millions of dollars from federal sources to this team effort.

We started our Work Local program which was designed to improve our community through job access and blight reduction. Work Local transports job-seeking panhandlers to cleanup sites six days a week, where they work to reduce urban blight. Workers are provided with food, a day’s wages, and additional services and counseling as needed.

Last year, in partnership with the City Council, Shelby County Government, Community Alliance for the Homeless, and Hospitality Hub, we announced that the City of Memphis would lease its Inspection Center at 501 Washington Ave to the Hospitality Hub, where an $8 million capital project  (including City government funds) will transform an unoccupied building into a Homeless Day Facility where people can receive services and counseling as needed.  

In 2021, we plan to work with the Community Alliance for Homeless to develop a new 10-year plan for homelessness.  Many short-term actions have been taken since 2016, including investment of federal funds with service providers and the commitment of over $2 million in hotels and shelter space amidst the COVID19 crisis.

Many families in Memphis have limited access to traditional banking services. They often turn to predatory lenders, pawn shops and costly check-cashing services to get by. Financial security and assets give low-income people the independence necessary to pursue productive livelihoods and overcome injustice.  

• Expand public awareness and advocacy efforts to educate low-income families on debt management and financial goals. 
• Bring in third-party groups to compare rates and loan practices. 
• Increase public awareness of predatory lending and check-cashing practices and look to strengthen existing laws to protect the community from predatory lenders. 
• Educate and expand the opportunities for students from families who are unbanked or underbanked. 
• Leverage the city’s financial assets to build banking allies to 1) create low or no-cost checking accounts for individuals living at or below the poverty line and 2) create low down payment and low-interest loans for home ownership in the inner city.
• Set Memphis on a path to raising property values for existing homeowners. 
• Increase minority participation in city contracting and awareness for available contracts. 
• Place further city restrictions on check cashing services and surging debt repayment fees. 
• Promote volunteerism of retired businesspersons to assist with personal financial assistance and startup businesses. 
• Increase the number of Memphians with safe bank accounts and established credit. 

Where we are today 
In partnership with the Shelby County Trustee’s office, we support the Greater Memphis Financial Empowerment Center in assisting citizens obtain a safe, affordable bank account with one of the BankOn Memphis financial partners. We help with negotiating new terms or deferrals with creditors including mortgage lenders, auto lenders, student loan holders and credit card companies’ referral for direct services and with assistance with expediting their economic stimulus money and/or unemployment assistance. GMFEC served over 387 clients as of March 2020.

MWBE Spend: FY20 June 30, 2020 
The City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity & Compliance and the Office of Performance Management are finalizing the numbers, but our trendlines show we are still above 20% MWBE spend in city contracting which has increased from 12 percent in 2015. The final numbers will be published on once complete.

Since its launch in 2018, the primary goal of the 800 Initiative has been to provide resources, education, opportunities and capital to minority-owned business in Memphis. In partnership with the City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance a coordination of direct operational participation from CBU, StartCo, Epicenter, Shelby County and FedEx, we have helped 234 firms earn $19 million in new revenue and created 171 new jobs. Currently, in an effort to stave off the negative financial effects of COVID-19, the initiative has launched new specialized programs to aid minority-owned firms in recouping lost revenue as well as seek and enter new markets with new opportunities during and after the pandemic. Over 30 additional firms will participate in these Covid-19 Sprint programs by the end of the year.

In January 2019, a guide that generalizes and teaches people who aspire to become more financially literate was created and headed up by Edmund Ford, Jr. through our Library system. It is titled, “Teaching the Rules of the Game: The 90 Day Curriculum to Financial Literacy”.  It consists of five (5) components that lay out the groundwork for the consumer to promote credit health, home purchasing, help with scholarships, portfolio investing, and proper money management to solve some of the universal challenges in the City of Memphis regarding finances and poverty.  
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshops were generally located in the Memphis Public Libraries, and the concepts repeat every three months.  The components are as follows:

(1) Learning about Credit: Credit Repair and Increasing Your Credit Score
(2) Purchasing Your First Home through the NACA Program
(3) Finding Scholarship Money for College and the Art of Extreme Couponing
(4) Investing in the Stock Market and Creating Generational Wealth
(5) Free Money in the Workplace and the Importance of Life Insurance, Wills, and Estates

Since inception, this program has served approximately 1,500 attendees, ranging from the young age of 7 to the seasoned age of 91.

In October of last year, we started a partnership with Operation HOPE, a non-profit organization focused on financial dignity and inclusion that equips people with the financial tools and education to secure a better future. Through this partnership, 676 city employees have had the opportunity to participate in the HOPE Inside program offering them free financial empowerment education and coaching.

Memphis won the Nation’s Cleanest City award four years in a row from the 1940s to 1950s and also won eight national awards from Keep America Beautiful from 1980 to 2002. City government must turn the tide against blight to reclaim our status as one of the nation’s cleanest and most attractive destinations.  

• Enforcement of residential codes and pressing vacant housing owners to keep buildings up to code. 
• Consolidation of code enforcement efforts.
• Revitalization of repossessed housing.
• Increased accountability of code enforcement. 
• Expand tax incentives to encourage expansion into blighted areas, and offer residential tax incentives to facilitate the sale of housing properties in blighted areas.

Where we are today
Reducing blight and trash is a constant battle, but we have made some progress and implemented many changes. We adopted and enforce the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). The IPMC provides for the regulation and safe use of existing structures in the interest of the social and economic welfare of the community. We implemented a staggered and weekend shift for Code Enforcement for maximum coverage. 

We created an Environmental Enforcement team to focus specifically on illegal dumping, litter and other environmental concerns. 

Additionally, the BEST (Blight Elimination Steering Team) works to create a standardized framework of partners to effectively and strategically coordinate efforts to remove blight. An example of their work is the Citizen Advocates Project that focuses efforts on finding solutions to address large blighted, vacant multi-family properties to find long term solutions. 

We’re currently finalizing the Clean City Guide to provide information related to key City services, as well as, finalizing the adoption and implementation of the Rental Property Registry that will include machine learning, predictive modeling & data sharing to approach issues surrounding blight.

As mentioned earlier, we also created the Public Service Corps. This program offers part-time work to men and women to help clean up our city, while at the same time getting them enrolled in one of our local technical or community colleges by utilizing the Tennessee Promise program. The participants work hard and get the opportunity for the better life through education.

The city’s stagnant population over an ever-expanding area makes the cost of delivering services more expensive. A priority for the city is to reverse the trend of outflow of population to the suburbs. It is also an objective to reduce the economic segregation that dominates the area, reduce blighted properties, and redevelop the inner city. 

• Offer tax abatements for 5-10 years to encourage new homebuyers to buy within the core of the city. 
• Provide tax abatement for increased valuation resulting from improvements to property for new construction and renovation. 

Where we are today
Due to a state law prohibition against property tax abatements, this recommendation would require that the property be transferred to a quasi-governmental agency during the term of the abatement.  Given the high transaction costs for a single-family home, this approach was deemed unfeasible.  Instead, the City created a new down payment assistance program that would provide up to $10k to families to purchase homes in zip codes with low home ownership rates.

Last year, we launched the Memphis Community Catalyst Fund — a dedicated, renewing source of money to make infrastructure improvements in key areas of neighborhoods, like the Tillman Cove Apartments demolition.

Pre-COVID-19, the City of Memphis was seeing economic development like we hadn’t seen in decades. Earlier this year, the Regional Economic Alliance Advisory Board met to update on our economic progress. To date, we’ve had 16 projects with 1,446 new jobs have announced this year. That represents $606.8 million in capital investment and $49.3 million in MWBE spend. I’m happy to say that compared to this time last year, that’s more jobs, more capital investment and more MWBE spend.

Additionally, Business Facilities magazine recently named Memphis the No. 1 region for water resources, and No. 2 as a global and metro logistics leader.

Becoming a more sustainable community requires that we do a much better job of protecting and preserving our natural resources and improving overall environmental quality. More and more, environmental stewardship is a necessity tied to our ability to compete in the global economy and attract new investments and jobs. 

• Conduct an audit of City of Memphis waste. 
• Implement a city-wide recycling challenge. 
• Partner with nonprofit groups to promote awareness of the Walkability Toolkit.
• Improve walking and biking safety laws and regulations. 

Where we are today
Becoming a more sustainable community requires that we do a better job of protecting and preserving our natural resources and improving overall environmental quality. More and more, environmental stewardship is a necessity tied to our ability to compete in the global economy and attract new investments and jobs.

While the Solid Waste Division continues the residential recycling collection program, the downturn in recycling markets has motivated the division to develop alternatives to divert yard waste, food waste and other organics from the landfill.  The Solid Waste Division has partnered with a local non-profit and a regional company to expand our composting facility, to fill the region’s capacity to recovery surplus food and food scraps.  The city has also joined a regional cohort focused on reducing food waste in major cities. The group consists of local community groups and agencies including the Solid Waste Division. The National Resources Defense Council guides the group while it reaches its goal to achieve to reduce food waste by 20% by 2025.

After hundreds of meetings with over 15,000 thousand Memphians, Memphis 3.0 was adopted in 2019. This is the City of Memphis’ first comprehensive plan for growth since 1981, was selected by the Tennessee chapter of the American Planning Association for the Outstanding Plan Award for 2019. 

Memphis 3.0 Plan

Unfortunately for many residents in Memphis, our parks, community centers, and libraries aren’t accessible, safe, or well-maintained. City parks and community centers can offer countless benefits to residents fortunate enough to have them in their neighborhoods.  


• Conduct audit of safety/security of centers, parks, and libraries. 
• Reduce crime by improving the physical environment.
• Establish a Memphis anti-graffiti network, focusing on parks and areas surrounding our community assets. 
• Intervene in the lives of young people so they choose the right path.
• Establish Adopt-A-Mile/Adopt-A-Park programs, starting with partnerships with city-run senior centers
Where we are today
Our parks, community centers and libraries are the lifeblood to the neighborhoods they serve. Since 2016, we’ve worked extremely hard offer more services, more hours and more amenities. We opened neighborhood libraries on Fridays, and added literacy education to spring and summer camps. We created and made free spring break camps, and increased City youth summer jobs by nearly 90 percent and our year-long Ambassador program by 40 percent. Prior to COVID-19, we had introduced staffed summer play at 20 of our parks after its absence for decades, and we had doubled the number of teens taking part in library programs. 

We’ve built a new library and skate park in Raleigh, a splashpad in Whitehaven, and scheduled to build a new library and a new Ed Rice Community Center in Frayser.