Memphis home repair programs have a history of trouble

Jene J. Long

A previous home repair program run by the city ended after a federal audit found city-hired contractors were getting paid for doing substandard work.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis City Council is considering a new program to help low-income and senior homeowners make home repairs. It would clean up blight, but what exactly is being done to make sure taxpayers are being well spent?

A previous home repair program run by the city ended after a federal audit found city-hired contractors were getting paid for doing substandard work.

“At the end of the day what we want to do is make it understood we care about those folks in low-income areas and senior citizens,” said JB Smiley, Memphis City Council. 

Councilman Smiley says that’s why the city council wants to create a program that would help clean up blight in neighborhoods and help homeowners with minor home repairs who are being cited by code enforcement into environmental court. 

Years ago, Memphis had a similar program, called the Harp program, however a federal audit found major problems with how it was handled. The program was supposed to help homeowners with home repairs and resolving code violations but auditors found inspectors approved payments for home repairs that didn’t meet standards or were not properly repaired as contracted.

At the time, frustrated homeowners showed Local 24 News one shoddy contractor job after another. The program was eventually shut down and Memphis had to go back, hire new contactors, and fix the homes it should have repaired properly the first time.

Smiley says this new program will be different and there will be more oversight.

“We’re talking about minor repairs as opposed to major repairs that way we don’t find ourselves in the same situation as the city found itself in,” said Smiley.

 ” I think the idea behind it is great,” said Cindy Ettingoff, CEO of Memphis Area Legal Services,

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Ettingoff says a program like this is needed. In MALS consumer division, Ettingoff said that often seniors and low-income residents don’t have the cash to hire quality contractors and it often ends with them being taken advantage of, but she adds administering a program like this can be complicated.

“The question is who is going to oversee it? Who is going to be the one tasked with the day to day over sight, because its going to take that,” said Ettingoff. 

Smiley says the council is still working out all the fine details of just how the program would work…but says the bottom line..

“Whatever new program this council creates we go thru it over and over to make sure there aren’t any gaps,” said Smiley.

In addition to the HARP audit, there was also a federal investigation after Local 24 News uncovered in 2005, the grandmother of a Memphis City Councilmember was built a brand new home for free even though she was not qualified for the home replacement program.

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