What We Do

This Academy is an educational enterprise to build the capacity of leaders engaged in the making, administering and enforcing of state and municipal codes that protect the health, safety, wellbeing and sustainability of residential neighborhoods.

Its founding faculty are four attorneys whose combined experience includes community development, policy making, legislative drafting, nuisance abatement and code enforcement litigation, urban planning, consensus building, teaching, and writing about their work. They have worked in several cities including Buffalo, Atlanta, Youngstown, Macon, Newburg, Philadelphia, San Diego, Flint, Toledo and of course Memphis, the host for this new Academy. They are deeply involved with the national vacant properties movement and have helped organize and lead highly regarded vacant property and blight abatement campaigns and conferences at both national and local levels—most especially in Baltimore, Cleveland and Memphis.

Our vision of an academy evolved from our teaching and technical assistance working directly with code enforcement managers, with attorneys, with public officials whose decisions and actions affect code compliance, and with the leaders of community-based organization, volunteer groups, advocates and residents who all care deeply about their cities and neighborhoods. The opportunity to put the vision into reality came on the heels of the 2016 initiation of an extraordinary collaborative enterprise in Memphis—the drafting and endorsement of the nation’s first blight elimination charter, through which municipal, county and public interest leaders made a public commitment to work together to prevent blighted property conditions from expanding and abate them where they were most harmful. Our academy rests on the goodwill, energy, and creativity of those who continue to put Memphis on the map as one of the nation’s leaders in eliminating property blight.

With the institutional backing of the University of Memphis, Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., a strong Memphis community development corporation, the founders planned and prepared for the launch of the Academy. A grant from the Kresge Foundation provided start-up funding so that the first Academy in 2017 could be offered to participants tuition free.

The Academy’s focus and methods distinguish this enterprise from others that offer instruction for code inspectors or that cover a single department of a municipality. Below we set forth our perspectives on code enforcement and share SCEMA’s approach to capacity building and learning.

Perspectives on Code Enforcement – Elements of a Strategic Approach

Strategic code compliance and enforcement is a community-based model that is essential for helping neighborhoods recover and sustain their quality of life.   Embedded in the state and local policy power to protect public health, safety and security, such an approach requires the cooperation and coordination of the local public and public interest institutions and agencies whose decisions and actions are guided by sharing data and knowledge.  Strategic code compliance and enforcement relies on data and knowledge to deploy its resources, administer its programs, and enforce its codes and regulations. Ordinary neighborhoods facing extraordinary changes and stresses cannot thrive without developing strategic ways to protect and preserve the wellbeing of residents and their property rights from harmful forces.  SCEMA assists communities in adapting, adopting, and using this strategic, community-based approach for neighborhood preservation.               

Below are the elements underscoring SCEMA’s view on strategic code compliance enforcement.

Focus on a strategic approach.

Code compliance enforcement is part of a complex ecosystem of laws, policies, and people. Code enforcement managers and attorneys must understand that code enforcement is more than a policing program and requires more than the work of a single municipal department or division.   Housing and neighborhood code compliance is connected to related transactions, influences and trends in both the public and private sector. Most code compliance is done voluntarily by willing property owners and occupants. A narrow view on inspections and citation enforcement will not be resilient against the new varied and powerful external social, economic and political forces that can oppress neighborhoods. Moreover, cities with distressed neighborhoods are losing the public resources to pay the growing costs of comprehensive, uniform code compliance enforcement. Choices must be made and those choices need to be strategic to maximize benefit and minimize the burdens to the community.

Focus on coordination and collaboration at the community level.

Almost every community has fragmented approaches to housing and neighborhood code compliance. In separate silos, institutions and departments compete for the resources to do similar tasks; accidentally interfere with each others’ programs or actions; and blame each other for incompetency without understanding the different legal and managerial limitations.  Increasing coordination and collaboration among all institutions and departments that affect neighborhood health, safety and welfare is now a critical skill in the face of increasing community challenges and declining municipal resources. SCEMA recruits small teams of colleagues across different institutions, departments, agencies or organizations to enroll and work together in the Academy. These teams work toward coordination and collaboration of all aspects of code compliance enforcement.

Focus on use of IT tools and methods.

Collaboration and effective management of a code compliance strategy is aided by data-driven knowledge now available in digital form and accessible on the internet.   It is critical to know how to design, organize, and use integrated real property-based data systems and facilities. Expensive commercial software products are flooding the marketplace and too often do not deliver the right information, in the right time, and in the right manner for multiple users. In the absence of standardization of data bases, best performance may require customization for specific local data sources. In other words, without good parcel-based data from an array of sources, policy planners, administrators, evaluators and the community cannot get a full view of the dynamics of its neighborhoods and act strategically for maximum benefit.

Focus on public policy and law.

Communities rely on legislators, municipal lawyers, prosecutors, planners, judges, magistrates, hearing officers, and community thought leaders to exercise local police powers and protect the public health, safety and welfare.   Persons in these leadership and management positions have few educational and training resources specifically designed for their work. Faced with unprecedented challenges to municipalities at this time, many of these persons are looking for help. That is why the mission of SCEMA is to enhance the capacity of those leaders in teams of colleagues to develop the public policies and laws needed at the local level of government.

Focus on code compliance.

Code enforcement actions alone do not change deteriorating and derelict property conditions.. Compliance by the responsible parties remains the ultimate goal of any action or tactic undertaken by the code enforcement program. Mere punishment of violators does not protect the public from harm.  When prosecution and adjudication are not zealous or when laws and procedures are manipulated to shield responsible parties from costs the effort is a failure. That failure harms innocent bystanders next door to blighted property and eventually shifts economic burdens to taxpayers. Code enforcement managers and attorneys should acknowledge that laws and enforcement procedures must equip enforcers with the ability to secure compliance and incentivize voluntary compliance.

SCEMA’s Goals and Educational Approach

Capacity building is the Academy’s primary task.

SCEMA seeks to empower small teams to build local coalitions that can work for collaboration among local officials in the agencies and departments of government toward a strategic approach as a connected system committed to sustainable community development. The capacity for working strategically across institutional and departmental boundaries is necessary for truly effective code enforcement in today’s neighborhood climate. Collaborating leaders and their constituents must understand the unique challenges in their community, must have the know-how to identify, prioritize, develop and implement solutions, and must make themselves the authors of the correct solutions for their particular challenges.

Courses are short, intensive work sessions in teams.

Each of the Academy courses lasts at least an hour, usually more, and involves working with teammates on designed code enforcement projects that can be taken back to the team’s community for extension or replication. Each team has its own faculty member as a coach. The intended result is both an increase in skill and capacity along with a useable work product to take away.  The objective is for each team to use the two-day Academy experience to be equipped for immediate action to develop their information-sharing coalition of willing professional partners willing to collaborate on code enforcement management that is more strategically effective in their community in the long run.

Experiential learning is our method.

Not only does SCEMA draw on the experience and expertise of highly regarded faculty; it also teaches with guided experiences in teams of colleagues. Teaching by and through both types of experience is more effective for most people, especially for professional education and training.

Sustaining the transformative work.

Plans are for Academy members and teams to stay connected after their initial enrollment. Opportunities for follow-up counsel and coaching are in those plans, as well as publication of practice aids, articles, weblogs and other resources accessible from SCEMA’s website. In addition to its annual Academy in June, SCEMA now offers an annual virtual lecture series.

SCEMA’s Vision for the Future

Many cities, large and small, growing or shrinking, are experiencing a loss of middle-income and stable wage-producing households.  This makes code compliance a bigger challenge. That is why SCEMA’s founding faculty hope that our work broadens the field of housing and neighborhood code compliance management to encompass sustained collaboration with the various departments and governmental activities.  Broadening the field and bringing others, including organized community groups, into informed, supportive relationships with the policing of property conditions is, in our view, more vital for the future than before.

The initial four courses in the curriculum will be evaluated to see how effective they are and how they can be improved. Additional courses will be offered in future Academy sessions.   We are committed to our institutional and funding partners to make the Academy an important addition to the sparse professional development opportunities for persons with senior level responsibilities in code enforcement management. That means maintaining the rigorous standards expected by practicing lawyers, public administrators, planners, community developers and other public policy professionals who continue their professional development in mid-career.

SCEMA will maintain its institutional residence in Memphis but be open to the possibility of holding Academy sessions in other venues to reduce the burdens and costs of travel and to reach additional members.  We intend for this website to be a source of continuing information and practice assistance for our Members.   We urge anyone interested in contacting either the faculty or our administrator to use the contact information provided on the Contact page.