Thursday, August 19, 2010

MIFA Seeks Artists, Volunteers for Neighborhood Clean-up Program

Any and all artists and volunteers interested in helping MIFA clean up vacant houses throughout the year all over the city should contact:

Mary Claire Borys
Handyman Manager
MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association)
(901) 527-0208 ext 288 Office
(901) 361-1303 Cell
(901) 523-1266 Fax
910 Vance Ave., Memphis, TN 3812

Volunteers will be gathering next Saturday 28 August in the MIFA parking lot at 910 Vance Ave from 9am to 12pm. They will be painting panels for one house with 10 windows. They will have all of the plywood & some paint – there will be a limited selection of color paint.

Artistic Board-Up Project:

In an effort to reduce blight and all its accompanying problems, the Handyman program at MIFA is starting a formal project to board up vacant properties in an attractive and artistic manner.

In Shelby County, there are currently 6,000 – 7,000 unsecured vacant housing units. Over 3,000 are currently owned by the County due to abandonment or delinquent property taxes. Unsecured or improperly secured vacant properties are routinely magnets for graffiti, vandalism, theft of construction materials, squatters, and fires. This source of blight comes with a high cost. There were 933 fires in vacant properties from 2005-2009, at a cost to taxpayers of $16.3 million. Unsecured vacant properties also negatively affect the property values of the entire neighborhood. There is also the intangible cost on the spirit of the neighborhood as residents must look at broken windows, high grass, or scraps of plywood loosely nailed over windows.

But there is an alternative. Across the country, governments and community organizations have begun to secure vacant properties with plywood panels painted in an attractive, and sometimes an artistic, manner. In Albany, NY, a community development corporation took two vacant buildings and painted the plywood panels to look like doors and empty windows. The group reports that there has been hardly any graffiti and no break-ins since the panels were installed a year and a half ago. In Orange Mound here in Memphis, volunteers with the Handyman program installed plywood across the front of an old shotgun house and painted a mural on it in the spring of 2007. This house had been broken into and even set on fire many times over the previous three years since it became vacant. After the mural was installed, no one broke into the home for a year and a half until the house was demolished by the City.

The Artistic Board-Up Program will use painted plywood panels and install them over the windows and doors of targeted properties. The panels will fit tightly over each accessible window and over the doorways as well, if necessary. This program will utilize:

•A referral system for individuals, neighborhood groups, and others to report vacant homes that need to be boarded up

•Government and foundation grants and private donations to secure plywood and other materials needed for painting (paint brushes, tarps, etc)

•A sponsor for each property who will help supply paint and volunteers

•Volunteers to paint the plywood panels, install them, and help monitor the on-going condition of the properties

The MIFA Handyman Program:
The Handyman Program at MIFA has existed in its current form since 2000. Its primary focus is to allow homeowners who are senior citizens and/or disabled to remain safe and secure in their own homes for as long as possible. This is primarily accomplished through providing free home repairs and home modifications. The home repairs range from fixing leaky faucets to replacing the whole roof. Home modifications include wheelchair ramps, widening doorways, and installing grab bars in the bathroom. These repairs and modifications are provided through grants and contracts with the City of Memphis and the State of Tennessee. The Handyman program distributes hundreds of donated items every year, including wheelchairs, walkers, heaters, fans, and air conditioners. Finally, the Handyman program uses volunteers for beautification efforts, including yard work at client homes, clearing vacant lots, and painting the exteriors of homes where either the client or the volunteers supply the paint. In fiscal year 2010, the Handyman program worked with 200 unduplicated clients and distributed donated items to another 279 unduplicated clients.

The Handyman program works with a steady stream of volunteers from around Shelby County. We partner with schools, including MUS, Rhodes College, and the University of Memphis Habitat for Humanity chapter. We partner with a wide variety of churches, including Mississippi Boulevard, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Beth Sholom Synagogue, and Church on the Square. Volunteers from businesses including FedEx, UPS, Comcast, and others have tackled Handyman projects over the years. In addition, Handyman hosts several alternative college break trips and youth group mission trips every year. In fiscal year 2010, over 1,200 volunteers donated over 13,300 hours of service.

Target Properties:
This project will operate across the city for single-family residences or duplexes and specifically target properties in lower-income neighborhoods which have been vacant for some time and which have already been the subject of some damage. A formal system for individuals and community groups to refer properties for board-up is still under development.

Handyman staff and volunteers will contact property owners in an attempt to obtain permission to come onto the property. No one will go onto the property if the owners refuse permission. If the owners cannot be located, volunteers may go onto the property to install the painted panels after they have been fully informed that no permission exists for them to go on to the property. If properties are owned by the City of Memphis or Shelby County, we will work with the departments in charge of securing those properties to obtain permission to enter them and to obtain the plywood for securing the property.

Handyman staff and volunteers will survey the properties after permission is obtained in order to determine the number and dimensions of the plywood panels.

Property Sponsorships:
This project will seek to find a sponsor for each house that is boarded up. Sponsors may be individuals, churches, schools, businesses, neighborhood groups, non-profits, and others. The two primary functions of the sponsors will be to provide the paint for the panels and to help provide enough volunteers to paint all of the panels needed. The volunteer groups will be encouraged to actively participate in the design of the paint scheme for each of the panels. Sponsors will be able to add their logo to at least one window panel for the property if they so desire. Sponsors will be asked to provide volunteers to install the plywood panels, but Handyman will help identify additional volunteers for installation if needed. Finally, sponsors will be asked to help monitor the on-going condition of the sponsored property by visiting the property every month or so and reporting its condition to Handyman.

The Handyman program is working to secure grant funding to pay for the majority of the plywood and other materials needed for painting, such as paint brushes and rollers, paint buckets, tarps, and painter’s tape.

Painting the Plywood:
The painting will be done during “painting parties” where groups of volunteers will gather to design and paint all of the plywood panels needed for at least one property. Painting parties will be held on the MIFA parking lot on select Saturdays. Painting parties can also be held at other community gathering spots, such as churches or schools, or at the sponsor’s location, if appropriate. The plywood panels can be cut either ahead of time or at the start of the painting parties.

The plywood can be painted in one of three ways. First, the panel can be painted in a basic representational manner, such that the panel will simply look like an empty window. The panel will be painted dark grey with white trim. Second, the panel can be painted in an artistic and creative manner, i.e., a mural. Third, the panel can be painted with a middle-ground manner. For example, the basic window panel could have the addition of curtains or objects sitting in the window (a cat, a flower vase, etc). The basic panels could be used anywhere on the home. More advanced panels would only be used on parts of the property facing the street; otherwise the impact would be lost.

Other Goals of the Board Up Project:
This project will also seek to effect lasting change in the Memphis metropolitan area thru changes in legislation and government policies. First, the project will push for legislation authorizing community groups to enter vacant properties to secure them and to maintain the grounds, and file a lien against the property for reimbursement of expenses. The primary point of this legislation is to remove the issue of trespassing when people just want to try to improve their own neighborhood by themselves. Second, the project will push for legislation to require that all vacant properties be secured with plywood that is of sufficient thickness, well-fitted to the structure, and painted in a manner consistent with the structure. Finally, the project will push for the City and County to better monitor and secure the vacant properties which they have, possibly in partnership with this project.

No comments: