This year, BLDG Memphis, through our public policy and advocacy program, has sourced the following three questions from our membership base of 28 nonprofit community development corporations (CDCs) working in neighborhoods across Memphis, and supporting/partner agencies in the community economic development and financial sectors. These issues are key to the work of CDCs in neighborhoods across Memphis, and we've contacted all 64 candidates for mayor and city council to respond.
BLDG Memphis does not endorse or provide financial resources to candidates for public office, and is strictly providing information to the public based on all candidate responses on the issues referenced in this questionnaire. BLDG Memphis has reserved the right to omit information or request clarification on responses that stray from the questions posed. Responses will be accepted and posted through the last day of early voting (9/28), but are strongly encouraged as soon as possible.
To learn more about the candidates and see important information on 2019 election dates and more, please visit the Memphis Public Library's Meet the 2019 Candidates page, which contains links to all available online campaign resources. Keep scrolling to see the questions and candidates' responses.
1. HOUSING - In the Memphis area, American Community Survey data shows that about 42% of households pay more than 30% of their income in housing costs (this is considered "cost burdened"), and 44% of households experience an issue with upkeep of their home. The newly created Memphis Affordable Housing Trust Fund will deploy $1 million in its first year to address needs in owner-occupied home repair and single-family (1 to 4-unit) renovation for re-sale and rent for families earning less than 80% of the area median income, with the flexibility to address other housing needs like affordable multifamily in future rounds. Do you support the current allocation of $700,000 in general property tax revenue annually to the Memphis Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and would you support increasing funding from a recurring source for the long-term sustainability of the Fund?
2. PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - Smart Growth America names Memphis the most dangerous metropolitan area in Tennessee for pedestrian safety and eleventh most dangerous nationwide (smartgrowthamerica.org/dangerous-by-design/). In light of this rating, as well as recent high-profile auto collisions involving people walking in the city, what will you do to make Memphis streets safe for all, regardless of their mode of transportation?
3. PUBLIC TRANSIT - The Memphis 3.0 Transit Vision (https://www.memphis3point0.com/transit) calls for increased investment in public transportation across the city to achieve a network of higher frequency bus routes serving more communities, at an estimated additional cost of approximately $30 million annually. Would you support efforts to find new and increased funding sources to implement the Transit Vision network and serve Memphis neighborhoods more effectively?
CURRENT OFFICE HOLDER RESPONSES
Mayor Jim Strickland
- HOUSING - Not only do we support it, we created it! The Affordable Housing Trust Fund was part of my 2019 budget proposal, and we worked with our partners on the City Council to make it a reality. This is a sustainable fund, as it is tied to a portion of our property tax rate. We are continuing to work to find ways to grow it in time with our own funding, as well as with philanthropy.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - We’ve done quite a bit already, but we have much more work ahead of us. Through our Bikeway & Pedestrian program, we incorporate safer street designs for all users of our streets. And, just this year, we completed the pedestrian safety flashing beacons and center-lane refuge on Poplar at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. That’s a frequent crossing for pedestrians and it’s important that we make it as safe as possible.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Not only do I support it, but we created the Transit Vision, too! I commissioned the study that took a hard look at how to vastly improve transit in Memphis, which led to the identification of the $30 million need. Now, other governments and community partners are working to find ways to meet that need. I’m proud that in my tenure alone, we have increased MATA funding by 25 percent -- from $23.6 million annually to $29.2 million. We will continue to work to fulfill the Transit Vision.
Rhonda Logan, Memphis City Council, District 1
- HOUSING - Yes, I support and would continue to support the allocation of these funds to the MAHTF.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - Research and review of comparable cities that are safe to see best practices is always a great place to start. However, some things I would do to make Memphis Streets safe for all, would be to provide sidewalks in communities that don't have them and to increase street sweeping and mowing along walkways in communities to improve walkability. For residents that use public transportation, attention must be given to MATA shelters; safety, accessibility, signage, and appeal. Speed bumps, reflectors, colored intersections and other speed reducers should be used at intersections with a high frequency of accidents and or fatalities. Installing cameras and machines that track and display speed would help to reduce driver speeding violations, making it safer for travelers in general. Firm penalties for distracted driving is a must.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Yes, I would.
Worth Morgan, Memphis City Council, District 5
- HOUSING - I'm supportive of the current allocation of $700K. Before supporting an increase to the funding, I'd like to have an opportunity to evaluate the successes and failures of the first year's grants.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY -
- Enforce the new penalty for using a handheld device while driving in TN.
- Better signage and infrastructure in high pedestrian areas.
- First priorities are schools and parks.
- Depending on cost, a public awareness campaign (not too dissimilar from "Click it or Ticket") around the dangers of distracted walking or driving.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - It entirely depends upon the identified funding source. Any increase in taxes (aka funding sources) needs to have a broad base of support. Having the new or increased funding source proposed in a straightforward referendum vote would be give the citizens a chance to be heard on their desire for significant change to the current system.
Dr. Jeff Warren, Memphis City Council, Super District 9, Position 3
- HOUSING - Yes. One of the biggest problems that we have in our city right now is that we don’t have enough decent affordable housing for middle and lower income families. It is hard for many people to live near where they work. As we develop industry it would be wise to consider locations that allow people to live close to where they work affordably. I will work with community members and developers to develop solutions that are good for both the investors and the community to create sustainable neighborhoods and to allow for affordable housing for our citizens. That will allow our citizens, like teachers and police offices, to live where they work and work where they live. This will help create strong, stable, and sustainable neighborhoods.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - There have been many recent pedestrian and bikeway improvements, but we have more to do. Continuing to increase safe pedestrian walkways, bikeways, speed bumps in school zones, parks, and other areas that have high pedestrian usage can all help create a safer community for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers. We also need to have educational plans in place to effectively slow down drivers which will save lives.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Yes. I do not support raising taxes to fund MATA, but there are many other new sources we can use to increase services. We also need to make bus services more efficient and attractive to more of our citizens which will go a long way in helping them pay for themselves. Additionally, I am very interested in revisiting the Greenprint 2015-2040. I think this work has been done by a number of very highly qualified people but has not been publicized well or understood by the general population. We need to explore and initiate these well researched ideas that will increase our pedestrian and bikeway footprint and allow for greater access to public transit.
Candidate: Tami Sawyer
- HOUSING - Yes. Affordable housing is a priority for me and I will support current efforts as well as work to find additional ways to accelerate the reduction of the affordable housing deficit. We are up against an impending housing crisis if current patterns hold and we must be creative in our solutions to ensure every Memphian is housed in safe, affordable, quality options.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - I have reviewed the report and find the information very concerning. First, I will seek out federal funding to allow us to assess our streets for safety and begin a plan towards implementation for complete safety. I believe education will also be a huge part of reducing pedestrian injury & death and promoting safe driving. I will work to have a public awareness program for safer streets. Adding resources for lights, designated lanes, and proper signage will also be a part of the work we do for safer streets.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Transportation equity is a very important issue for me and a major part of my campaign platform and work as commissioner. I will as mayor work to find innovative funding sources that allow us to revitalize and modernize while improving access. We simply have to address the transportation issues that face Memphians who want to get to work, get to the grocery store, get to amenities, and more, but who can’t. The link between a current lack of effective public transportation and poverty, food apartheid, and social segregation is clear in our city and my administration would immediately work to solve this challenge.
Memphis City Council, District 5
Candidate: John Marek
- HOUSING - Yes and yes. Anything we can do to help those with less has my support. While I support growth and development, I believe that, too often, our resources go into areas that benefit folks who fall on the wealthier end of our community. Too often, I hear stories of blight and poverty in parts of town that do not receive the same level of attention as other parts of town. As councilman, I vow to do everything I can for Binghampton. Binghampton is a beautiful and active community in District 5, and I love what Caritas Village and other pillars in the Binghampton community have done for that area. One major problem we have in our community is depopulation. So many people live in Germantown, North MS, and Bartlett, yet they do not work in those communities; they work in Memphis. Every day, people in the suburbs use our streets and other public facilities and services. Another major problem we have in our community is a lack of avenues for revenue. We need to find ways to collect revenue from those who use our city services but do not pay for them. One idea I came up with in 2015 was to tax parking garages downtown; we could come up with a program to give city residents a discount. I also believe that we should push the county/city consolidation idea again. Dual government is wasteful and further emphasizes the "Tale of Two Cities" image that exists far too much in Memphis. Cutting waste through consolidation would allow us to free up existing revenues for programs like this. This year, I came up with a plan for fighting blight. Here is my call to action against blight: 1. First and foremost, I believe we should go after the banks and other large companies/conglomerates, who buy up blighted properties but do not fix them or pay the taxes owed on them. 2. As councilman, I would propose we offer a tax abatement to property owners who can show they are removing blight from their property. This abatement would likely be limited to 3 years, assuming the property remains up to code, and it would be done using the money collected from the tax collections on bank/business-owned blighted properties. 3. The primary target for the above program would be geared towards blighted properties within 300 yards of a Shelby County School, and it would expand out as the program receives more funding.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - We need to make public transportation more accessible, and we need to put speed bumps on streets notorious for speeding. I have seen a lot of work put in on making more clearly marked cross walks available, and my platform discusses a lot of our schools where speed bumps and signage are not properly in place. Slow down warnings on heavily walked streets should continue to be installed as well, and we should continue to make sure that streets in all parts of the community have proper lighting since pedestrians are more at risk in the dark. We should also look into employing more crossing guards. Doing this would both create jobs, and it would protect the public. I am very glad to see Memphis 3.0 focusing on community anchors and not just citywide anchors. We definitely need the latter and are lucky to have them, but I appreciate the effort at creating good places for people to gather within separate parts of the community.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - DEFINITELY! This is extremely important to me, and I am very glad that Memphis 3.0 recognizes the problem. I am very glad that accessibility from all parts of the community has been recognized as a priority. With the problem of food deserts, joblessness, and poverty, we need to make sure that our residents without transportation (or those who want to use their vehicles less for the sake of the environment) can access public transportation so that they can go to and from work and to and from a number of other places such as grocery stores. In 2015, this was in my platform, and it is still there: MATA While some buses move on major routes/loops, we could set up mini-hubs to support smaller routes, which would make our public transportation system more accessible. If done properly, it would make it possible for us to allow the county school system to drop its bus contracts and give MATA the ability to run the school routes at ⅓ of the current cost or less. Memphis weather is unpredictable, yet many bus stops do not have protection from the weather. I would work to remedy that by placing rain shelters along busy stops. Pushing MATA later weekend route times could discourage dangerous and reckless driving late at night, especially as other transportation policies emerge making buses more accessed and preferred. As your city councilman, I will work to increase and continue MATA ridership however possible. Bus riders are doing our city and our environment a service by promoting and supporting public transportation.
Memphis City Council, District 6
CANDIDATE: Theryn Bond
- HOUSING: This data and the funding don't necessarily go hand in hand throughout the community and certainly not those it would effect the most. The keywords "owner-occupied" stand out the most especially in a renter's market. Several folks who occupy homes are not the original homeowners and those that do are often looked over for funding and other resources and have been for quite some time. I would need to see line items of which particular communities or zip codes that would be directly receiving resources. Too often loop holes are created when some organizations are mere facades for good work and funding but really just reallocating to ill-intentioned pockets.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - First of all, we have to hold elected officials accountable who promised to address crime with a plan and didn't. Secondly, we have to allocate resources properly to MATA. Third, we have to restore benefits to police and fire but also improve/revamp/increase the amount of training overall, but especially when it comes to deescalation tactics. Next, the way our streets become safer is when there is equitable distribution of resources, hope is restored, and everyone not just the elite have great opportunities with great benefits to provide for themselves and their families.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Well this is a leading question and assumes that I think 3.0 Transit Vision is a good plan...which considering 3.0 is not an equitable plan...I don't. I do believe we should increase the frequency of bus routes, find a way to develop rapid transit in the form of express buses and a rail line, as well as improving the MATA Plus operating system.
Memphis City Council, Super District 8, Position 1
Candidate: Pearl "Eva" Walker
- HOUSING - Yes I would.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - I judge that problem solving begins with defining the cause(s) problem. I want to look at the date to see what are the root causes of this and start from there. I would locate funds local, state and federal to support efforts to inform citizens of regarding pedestrian safety to include the bike lanes. This would be in the form of PSAs that would address all affected areas. Memphians need to be made aware of all modes of transportation used by citizens.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Yes and I would and include a provision to fund a PR campaign to increase ridership. We must view MATA as a business, and if you expand a business without increasing business, then that business will be in crisis. I would advocate for a carefully crafted and executed PR campaign to increase ridership and revenue simultaneously.
Memphis City Council, Super District 8, Position 2
Candidate: Brian L. Saulsberry
- HOUSING - Yes.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - I would support a pedestrian study and analysis be completed by a certified organization that advises on public safety.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Yes.
Memphis City Council, Super District 9, Position 2
Candidate: Mauricio Calvo
- HOUSING - Yes.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - I will be in support of any measure that increases safety for all modes of transportation and promotes walkability. My approach to this issue would be the same as for any other issue: get our local stakeholders around the table (not only those with access to a paid lobbyist). Hear from local and outside of Memphis experts on recommendations and best practices. Work towards objective driven implementation and sustainability.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - I will make transportation a priority of my policy agenda. The information that I have about the $30 million dollar is what I have seen as a private citizen. I can't wait to enter much more in depth discussions to see what we need and how we are going to fund it. We can't make transportation a political issue. It is an urgent matter and you can count my commitment towards finding solutions.
Memphis City Council, Super District 9, Position 3
Candidate: Charley Burch
- HOUSING - Yes.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - Start by coordinating with first responder leadership and reinstating their pensions and benefits.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Yes.
Candidate: Cody Fletcher
- HOUSING - I fully support the Memphis Affordable Housing Trust Fund. It’s my desire for the funding for this program to increase significantly. I absolutely will search for ways to increase and sustain long-term funding to help provide affordable housing to Memphians. I believe this can be done without having a tax increase, but rather through innovative funding solutions including state/federal grants and philanthropic/corporate support. It’s important for all Memphians that we find ways to grow our economy, while ensuring equitable prosperity throughout every neighborhood.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - As University District Development Officer at The University of Memphis, my job is to build and enhance public infrastructure to increase pedestrian safety and improve walkability near the main campus. It is extremely important to me to create a safer pedestrian experience for the 22,000 U of M students, faculty, and staff as well as the residents of surrounding neighborhoods. We accomplish this through a variety of methods including the addition of crosswalks and other traffic calming measures. In 2019, we constructed an activated crosswalk at the Highland Strip, addressing a decades long issue of people literally running across the street, dodging traffic. As you may have seen, shortly thereafter there was a high-profile accident involving a pedestrian there. Part of the solution to calming traffic and making things safer is raising awareness and knowledge of the laws and issues surrounding pedestrian safety. As a City Council member, I will work to allocate funding for street infrastructure improvements, including advocating for additional tax increment financing districts throughout the city. As we work to create a more dense city, we must focus on transforming the auto-oriented nature of Memphis to a more pedestrian friendly environment.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - Yes. I believe a better public transit system is necessary for Memphis to truly thrive. We must provide a reliable, efficient transportation system for citizens without cars to be able to get to work in a timely fashion. It’s essential to alleviating poverty and increasing access to education. I do not support a tax increase to fund the Transit Vision, however I will advocate for other sources of funding like federal/state grants, philanthropic and corporate support. Memphians can’t afford anymore taxes or fees, but it’s the Council’s job to be innovative in finding funding for these important issues.
CANDIDATE: Pastor Gerald Kiner
- HOUSING - Yes and I support increasing the fund for long-term sustainability.
- PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - I would promote enhancing walkability, curb extensions, pedestrian only streets, increase fines for speeders and distracted driving among other strategies.
- PUBLIC TRANSIT - I would support it as a temporary fix not as a permanent solution. Memphis cannot become a world class city with MATA. In order to attract Fortune 500 companies to our city, we must invest heavily in phasing out MATA for a more advance and more modern form of transportation that will be used not just by the poor but by the middle class and upper middle class as well- as is the case in every thriving progressive city in America and in the world. Translink in Vancouver was rated the best transit system in North America, achieving a ridership growth of 18% while achieving record highs in on-time performance. Expecting MATA to carry us into the future is like expecting the black and white TV to make a comeback. The future has passed MATA by, it's time for Memphis to catch up with the future of transit.