Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2016

Publication Title

University of Memphis Law Review


neighborhood blight, vacant property policy


Blight is a term with multiple meanings and a complex legal and policy history in the United States. Currently, blight and its community costs are frequently associated with vacant and often foreclosed homes, defective and abandoned buildings, litter, vacant lots, and graffiti. As a legal and policy term, blight has roots in the common law definitions of public nuisance. Researchers and scholars in other disciplines have cited blighted neighborhoods as both a cause and symptom of larger socioeconomic problems such as poverty, crime, poor public health, educational deficits, and other personal or systemic distress.

This Article traces the seeds of a blight policy movement through the experiences of two of its pioneering members: Clinical Professor Emeritus Kermit Lind and Senior Researcher Joe Schilling. Lind and Schilling will offer insights on the movement’s legal and policy foundations while reflecting on the challenges that lie ahead for lawyers and policymakers.

Part I defines the legal and policy parameters of neighborhood blight by examining its origins and linkages with public nuisance principles and eminent domain as well as blight’s social and cultural dimensions.

Part II outlines the characteristics, members, and elements of a vacant property policy movement from 1990 to 2015. Lind and Schilling describe their collaborations in Cleveland and other cities in helping local practitioners and leaders revise and reform their vacant property policies with a special focus on local government code enforcement programs. They outline a new model— strategic code enforcement—that communities will need to adopt and deploy in light of dramatic shifts in real estate markets, the globalization and securitization of the mortgage industry, and dwindling public resources. They offer critical legal and policy lessons from the second wave of vacant properties and neighborhood decline caused by the Mortgage Foreclosure Crisis and Great Recession that still reverberates throughout communities today.

Part III concludes with further reflections about the vacant property policy movement and how its local and national networks can help communities build greater legal and policy capacity as well as facilitate the sharing and development of innovative strategies through collaborative working groups and coordinating councils. Using recent developments in Memphis with the introduction of the nation’s first Neighborhood Blight Elimination Charter, Lind and Schilling stress the pivotal roles that community development intermediaries, law schools, and nonprofit lawyers must play in developing and sustaining these local problem-solving networks.