Blight battle finds focus at Aretha Franklin’s birthplace

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: Aretha Franklin waves after her performance at the International Jazz Day Concert on the South Lawn of the White House on April 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. The event was presented by actor Morgan Freeman and included remarks by President Obama. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ The crumbling house where Aretha Franklin was born looks no different from many others in Memphis’ Soulsville neighborhood: empty and shuttered, with plywood over the windows. A rear section has collapsed, and weeds grow all around it.

It’s a monument to urban blight, and daunting evidence of how much work it will take to fix it.

In Memphis, an effort is underway to reclaim the landscape of abandoned houses and trash-strewn vacant lots. It’s making the city a leader in the fight against the blight epidemic afflicting America’s cities.

Experts say Memphis is the first U.S. city to draft a charter document linking city agencies and community organizations to confront housing and neighborhood blight.

An innovative program enlists University of Memphis law students to sue homeowners on the city’s behalf.