The Baltimore Open Land Data (BOLD) project advances data-driven tools for developing solutions to vacant property problems and educating partners to more effectively prevent and redress property abandonment in order to revitalize distressed neighborhoods. To achieve these goals, BNIA-JFI collaborated with community, non-profit, and local government partners, to create an exciting new mapping and data tool that integrates multiple property-related datasets at the parcel-level. This tool allows its users to better understand, analyze, and reform property-related policies, like tax sale foreclosure, that might have negative impacts on vulnerable populations, communities, and the city.
The following story, which appeared in Vital Signs 15, details the relationship between tax liens and vacancy.
In 2013, The Community Law Center founded the Tax Sale Workgroup as a subcommittee of Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition (BHPC) to break the cycle of vacant properties in Baltimore city and create opportunities to preserve homeownership. The workgroup has been effective in bringing about policy changes that have reduced the number of owner-occupied homes being lost through the city’s annual tax sale, through legislation that (1) increased the threshold amount owed in back taxes or other fees such as water bills, triggering a tax sale – from $250 to $750, and (2) decreasing the interest rate that lien purchasers can charge homeowners, from 18% to 13%.
Despite these successes, the Tax Sale Workgroup, Community Law Center, and other partners, have struggled to efficiently and effectively collect data required for their legal and policy work. In order to get the whole picture of an individual property, the processes involved complicated searches of at least nine different web-based data sources for each property and then mapping that information with Google Maps. For example, the Public Nuisance Project, which demonstrated the power of community associations to bring code enforcement actions against the worst properties in their neighborhoods, required nearly a full year by Community Law Center attorneys, University of Maryland law students, and CPHA staff and interns, to gather data on community associations, property ownership, and code enforcement status.
Additionally, nonprofit and community organization groups currently have no unified data system to use for outreach efforts around vacancy, abandonment, and other nuisance property issues.
Studies by national experts have highlighted how collaborative policy working groups focused on vacant properties, tax sale reform, and transparent and effective use of technology and data, are all key pieces to addressing property abandonment and revitalizing distressed neighborhoods. An example of technology that addresses this is the free and publicly accessible social and economic data system called NEO CANDO, Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing, of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western Reserve University. A study of the NEO CANDO system found that ““[l]ocal market data systems are of great value to nonprofits, local governments and other community stakeholders who are working to stabilize neighborhoods struggling as a result of foreclosures, blight, vacancies or economic decline.” (Market Data-Driven Stabilization: A Case Study of Cleveland’s NEO CANDO Data System, p.4.)” From this, the idea of BOLD emerged.
BNIA- JFI has more than a decade of experience integrating data from multiple administrative data sources. BOLD integrates these datasets into a user-friendly web application and mapping tool that will allow the Community Law Center, other nonprofits, community groups, and individual users, the ability to enable real-time collaborative decision making and to identify and map neighborhood change at the property level. This will result in a reduction of time spent by community lawyers on researching data from multiple websites and also allow for improved advocacy in all matters of District Court housing code enforcement cases, hearings before the Zoning Board, and actions in Circuit and Federal Courts such as the Public Nuisance Project utilizing the Community Bill of Rights. This type of data will prove invaluable in crafting remedies for Baltimore’s neighborhoods against nuisance properties.
BOLD was developed by BNIA-JFI with design continual input and feedback from the Community Law Center and members of the Tax Sale Workgroup. The tools allows users to search and select property addresses to obtain current and historic data related to tax sales, foreclosures, vacancy, property permits and violations. It also allows users to input data and notify Baltimore’s 311 service for a variety of property-related issues.
BOLD is currently in the development stage and will be ready for beta testing in the next few months. If you have questions or comments, please email Amanda Davis at [email protected].