In your city, do you know how to find data on evictions? What about habitability issues in your home? Have you ever asked yourself what protections you have as a renter, but don’t know where to turn for information? Do you know who owns your building? Are you or your neighbors at risk of displacement from eviction or foreclosure?
Historically, tenants and other community members have had difficulty finding answers to these questions. Even when this data is technically public, many agencies do not make it easy to find or use. On the other hand, corporate landlords and institutional investors have access to an array of proprietary data that help maximize the profitability of their investments, target distressed properties, and screen out tenants with eviction records or low credit scores. They are also able to use ownership structures such as LLCs to further obscure who owns properties and when they are changing hands. Renters and community organizations are often therefore at an information disadvantage when properties are sold or foreclosed on, or when tenants are at risk of displacement.
Stewarding the legacy work of long-time collaborative partner, Mile High Connects, NDC has joined the growing ranks of advocates that are fighting to level the informational playing field with new data tools that build tenant power and facilitate community ownership of housing. Among other programs and tools developed in collaboration with MHC partners, NDC has adopted the Denver region Community Alert Database, otherwise known as “the CAD” – a data tool meant to help communities easily assess data to help resist speculation and displacement while advancing community ownership of housing and real estate.
A tool that was created for community by community, the Community Alert Database is metro Denver’s one-stop shop to research property owner information and empower community to combat displacement and enhance quality of life for residents and business owners. Users of the CAD can access property data and community indicators, like who owns their building and how many other properties those owners have in the region. The CAD can assist in outreach efforts to tenants to organize and mobilize around specific issues, especially bad actor landlords. It also augments other data tools to identify place-based issues and opportunities, like land acquisition opportunities.
Thanks to support from the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC), NDC inherited from MHC collaborative partnerships with folks in Los Angeles and the Bay Area who have been advancing data democratization tools to unlock power in community, and we have been learning from each other to help refine the access to and use of our tools.
- OWN-IT! The Organizer’s Warning and Notification for Tenants (OWN-IT!) tool was created by Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) , a Los Angeles based tenant rights, equitable development and housing organization. OWN-IT! features an easy-to-use, interactive mapping tool that shows all of the residential, commercial, and industrial properties in L.A. County. Users can click on individual buildings to find out when they were constructed, the number of units they contain, and the owner’s name, contact information, and property records, among other information. Users can also track Housing Department violations, whether the building has an Ellis Act filing, and whether it’s covered by a city or county rent-control ordinance.
- Evictorbook: a web-based tool created by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP), Evictorbook provides key data about properties and landlords in San Francisco and Oakland. This includes information on a building’s eviction filing, building permit, and building complaint history. Evictorbook increases transparency around corporate ownership of housing by revealing the shell companies that corporate landlords often hide behind and the ownership networks they might be a part of. This transparency in turn will help keep people in their homes by giving renters and organizers information that can support advocacy campaigns and tenant counseling. It will also help land trusts and other community organizations identify and evaluate properties for acquisition.
Through the CAD and the other tools, community groups are proving that data in the hands of its residents, nonprofits, and businesses empowers them to stay in place safely and by choice, overcome systemic barriers, and increase opportunities to thrive. As data is made accessible and harnessed into a user-friendly platform that is designed by those who will benefit from it, local communities can fight displacement and ensure inclusive and equitable development in their neighborhoods.
Creating community-centered property data tools doesn’t come without challenges. This begins with the cost of building and maintaining a user-friendly database. In addition to data acquisition and hosting costs, it takes a lot of labor to clean, compile, and visualize this information in an accessible way. Even once these tools are launched, maintaining, updating, and expanding them will require additional labor and funding support.
One other challenge in building these tools is the variation in data availability from city to city and state to state. Relevant data comes from different public agencies at different levels of government, and a lack of standardization means that it takes varied forms from place to place. For example, while cities like San Francisco keep clean and detailed data on eviction filings, many localities fail to even collect the kind of eviction information that is of interest to renters and advocates, let alone provide a publicly accessible platform. Scaling can pose similar challenges; for example, the metro Denver area comprises seven counties and over 35 cities, each with their own data collection practices, datasets and formats. And with local agency staff often serving as gatekeepers to relevant property data, their level of cooperation will similarly vary.
In January 2023, we will put out a call for users – new and existing – to get access to the refreshed and updated CAD and to sign up for training to learn how to use it for your specific community needs. As more users get acquainted with the CAD, we plan to gather user stories and feedback to create case studies and iterate the platform with each data update. We are partnering with Colorado Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) to share the cost of data updates, as they are using similar data to identify properties to preserve for affordable housing.