Need Data for Suburban Revitalization Efforts? There's an App For That

By Lisa Nelson • September 17, 2015

In the wake of the housing crisis, cities across the country have been dealing with unprecedented numbers of problem properties. Cleveland and other cities in Northeast Ohio are no exception; however, they are armed with data-driven tools that are key assets in their work towards neighborhood stabilization. For decades, efforts like this throughout the City of Cleveland have been informed by data provided by the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing system (NEO CANDO.) Developed and maintained by the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development (“Poverty Center”) at Case Western Reserve University — a founding member of the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership — NEO CANDO was introduced in 1992, and contained mainly social and economic indicators aggregated at various levels of geography. By 2010, the Neighborhood Stabilization Team (NST) Web App, a component of NEO CANDO, was launched. The NST Web App contains regularly updated property-level data from Cuyahoga County, including sales transfers, foreclosure filings and sheriff’s sales, as well as code violations, permits, and demolitions from the City of Cleveland. With this data readily available in one system, organizations in Cleveland and in surrounding suburban cities are making strategic decisions about problem properties plaguing their neighborhoods.[1]

Cleveland is far from the only community in Cuyahoga County affected by the negative impacts of the housing crisis and recession. Inner-ring suburbs are also making strategic use of data to address the challenges in their communities. In one such instance, Bryce Sylvester, a project specialist in the city of Lakewood, an inner-ring suburb to the west of Cleveland, used data in the NEO CANDO/NST Web App as the basis for a housing-condition survey the city’s building department undertook.[2] With minimal effort, inspectors downloaded current and accurate information about the nearly 13,000 one- and two-family homes onto tablets before examining the exteriors of these homes and rating them on a scale from one to four, with one indicating no violations and four indicating significant work was needed. Extremely useful in this effort was the ability to easily identify the current owners of the properties, so the city could send notices regarding any required property maintenance or repairs and conduct any necessary follow-up. Tax delinquency data was also important, as it may signal difficulty in maintaining a home. Sylvester noted that the ease in accessing, filtering, and extracting data from the system allowed the city to be more proactive in identifying and addressing property-maintenance issues in their community.

With data readily available in one system, organizations in Cleveland and in surrounding suburban cities are making strategic decisions about problem properties plaguing their neighborhoods.

The City of Lakewood also uses the data in NST Web App to identify and document issues related to rental properties. By knowing more about who owns the rental properties in their community, for example, city leaders can validate information gathered through their landlord housing-license requirement. The NST Web App also helps them identify nuisance properties, which can be indicated via continued police involvement at a property. During monthly meetings of Lakewood’s Property Reinvestment Committee, which include representatives from the city’s law, police, finance, and building departments, the planning department accesses up-to-date data on these properties in the NST, including who owns the property, whether it is foreclosed on, tax delinquent or vacant and whether any of these statuses have changed since the last meeting. Having this current, up-to-date property information allows the city to be better informed about the status of these nuisance properties and use it to determine what options may be available to mitigate problems.

Over on Cleveland’s east side, Shaker Heights, an older inner-ring suburb, is also using the system to document issues, identify trends, and inform residents about what is happening in their neighborhoods.[3] For example, city leaders can research the status of specific properties without having to go to multiple county agencies to obtain information. When concerns about problem properties are brought to the attention of the city, staff can access the NEO CANDO system via their computers, enter the parcel number, and learn in moments whether the property is tax delinquent or in foreclosure, what its property value is, and who owns it.

Using data from NEO CANDO to quantify problems has been extremely helpful not only in helping city leaders develop a strategy to deal with them, but also in informing policies in the Shaker Heights community. For example, the city was contemplating increasing the occupancy fee charged to rental property owners given the growing numbers of single-rental properties. But, first they wanted to know more about who owned these rental properties. Were there many individuals who owned one property, or were there a few who owned many properties? The city did not want to put an undue burden on individuals renting their homes as they attempted to sell them. Using NEO CANDO, the city determined there were many property owners who owned just one home; based on this, they decided against an increase in the fee. The data is also used to identify low-value properties, where they are located, who owns them, and whether the taxes are being paid. Ready access to this kind of information helps leaders keep tabs on these problematic properties and reach out those who own them.

Just last month, the Poverty Center announced a new project that will build on these successful efforts. With support from the Cleveland Foundation and in partnership with the First Suburbs Consortium (made up of leaders from 19 suburban communities), the Poverty Center will identify ways to systematically collect code enforcement information throughout the county and link it with other pertinent parcel-level data. Having a comprehensive property system in place will allow for data-informed decision-making to address stabilization issues across the entire county.

The Poverty Center’s many projects to develop data-driven tools for Northeastern Ohio communities show the power of regional efforts to address complex issues like neighborhood stabilization. NEO CANDO will continue to be an essential resource for identifying emerging issues, documenting trends; informing decision-making and most importantly putting data into the hands of those who can take action in the region.

Strengthening Communities with Neighborhood Data Book

This essay is a companion to “Cutting through the Fog: Helping Communities See a Clearer Path to Stabilization,” an essay included in Strengthening Communities with Neighborhood Data, published in 2014 by the Urban Institute.

[1] For detailed description of evolution of NEO CANDO and use by Cleveland organizations, see “Cutting Through the Fog: Helping Communities See a Clearer Path to Stabilization,” in “Strengthening Communities with Neighborhood Data.”

[2] Bryce Sylvester, Project Specialist, City of Lakewood, OH. Phone interview September 28, 2012.

[3] Kamla Lewis, Director of Neighborhood Revitalization, City of Shaker Heights, OH. Phone interview, October 24, 2012.


Top photo courtesy of Lisa Nelson

About the Author

Lisa Nelson

Lisa Nelson is a senior policy analyst with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Community Development team.