On May 20th, Detroit civic startup Loveland Technologies presented at OpenGov Hack Night. Loveland is a company that helps governments, nonprofits, and community organizers to gather and present public information about properties. Through their work, they’ve been able to map out every single vacant property in the City of Detroit.
Urban blight is a serious problem in Detroit with the city estimating that over 80,000 buildings having been abandoned. Vacant buildings can lead to other problems in the neighborhood including higher crime and depreciation of home values. Like many cities, Detroit can knock the buildings down. However, this can be an expensive and time consuming process. As a way to try to reduce the number of vacant buildings, the city uses tax auctions to sell off properties that would be taken over by the city due to non-payment of property taxes.
The confusion around the tax auction – both how it worked and what was available – was what first brought founder Jerry Paffendorf into the civic technology world. He helped to create a site called “Why don’t we own this?” to highlight and explain what was happening with the tax auction.
The site helps users locate properties that are on the auction block. Once a property is located, the site will give you information on the tax status, assessment, owner, and parcel id. From there, you can also sign in to have a conversation about the property.
The site also provides resources for residents including what to do if your house gets sold, links to auction sites, and resources for those seeking help in making their tax payments.
To get the data that runs Why Don’t We Own This, Loveland uses an app called Blexting. (Blight Texting) Here’s the app in action:
Motor City Mapping, which uses the technology, was awarded a grant as part of the White House initiative to end blight. At the cost of 1.5 million, Loveland hired teams of surveys at $10/hour to survey every vacant building in the city giving sites like Why Don’t We Own This a rich complete data set.
You can learn more about Loveland on their website at http://makeloveland.com/