One of the defining reasons that I’m seeking to become the next Shelby County Commissioner of District 2 is my passion for working with good people to do good work.
Two of those good people are Commissioner Steve Mulroy and Commissioner Henri E. Brooks, but by saying good work I naively define a process which is far more complicated.
Here’s the situation. There’s this housing developer named Mr. Harold Buehler who has been building houses for two decades. If you’ve never seen one of Mr. Buehler’s rental properties I can quickly surmise that you've neither live nor work in the South Memphis community. His two story, what we sarcastically call “the Mason,” are littered all over. Many homeowners in these communities don't like them. They’re basically the same floor plan build over and over again throughout the area, and they don't blend into the community as well as many would like. While Buehler has grown in wealth, homeowners have seen their neighborhoods steadily decline in value.
Now by no means am I blaming Buehler as the main reason for the decline of housing in the inner-city, in fact he is not one of, but THE sole large scale developer of housing in this community. He has provided shelter for hundreds upon hundreds of residents. The complaint of many community leaders is that he is nothing more than a carpetbagger; benefiting from the poor state of the community and enriching himself.
Buehler has sought from the Shelby County Commission a resolution approving the transfer of titles of one hundred forty parcels of Homestead Program property in the North Memphis community with the intention of building rental houses. Commissioner Mulroy seeing the number of residents living in substandard housing and not wanting the loss of millions of dollars in development money from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) has spearheaded this effort. From Mulroy’s perspective there is a need for affordable rental property and Buehler is the only developer in the game.
At Monday’s commission meeting I listened as some nonprofit developers spoke against the proposed transfer of property. Like the lawyer he is Mulroy posed one question to each of those in opposition, “How many houses have you build?” The response was one or two in the past ten years. His point was well made. If they couldn’t step up to the plate and build these houses then who else would?
On the opposing side is Commissioner Brooks. She made no bones about the fact that she feels Buehler is a slum lord and the thought of giving him 140 parcels of land was tantamount to treason against the community by the other Commissioners. She hammered at each nonprofit housing developer that supported Buehler. “Will you also benefit from this deal if Buehler receives these properties?” Brooks would ask. The reply was, “Yes.” Brooks saw this as simply rewarding someone who has poorly served one community by giving him the opportunity to poorly serve another community.
The truth is there are some people who will never be homeowners. Due to lack of money, poor credit or simply no desire there will be those who will need affordable rental homes. To this point I’m in total agreement with Commissioner Mulroy. Buehler is a capitalist. His mission is to make a profit. What is needed are ways to insure developers don't renege on their promises after they have received what they asked for and after everyone has moved on to other issues. There needs to be greater focus on home ownership assistance and efforts to prevent communities from being flipped from owners to renters.
Commissioner Brooks’ lack of trust is understood and sincerely appreciated. This is probable not the best plan we can give to this North Memphis community, but for those needing homes NOW I'm not sure we can wait for a better one.
Seeing Commissioner Brooks and Commissioner Mulroy on opposite sides of this issue makes it important to remember that from their point of view they are both trying to do what they feel is best for these North Memphis residents. I know this and I want you to know this as well.
As I said in the beginning there are rarely easy answers. We find ourselves wrestling between logic and our gut feelings. In my opinion the land transfer will more than likely pass. What we must do is make certain that the residents of North Memphis are protected and that those who operate in these communities are strictly regulated. We owe these citizens nothing less.