Blight Remediation Analysis
Post-Katrina New Orleans grappled with more than 35,000 derelict and abandoned properties, casting a shadow over many neighborhoods’ quality of life. Because the relevant data was in many different places and in many different formats, neither city staff nor the people of New Orleans could get the status of blighted properties anywhere except for monthly blight status meetings where all the data holders were present. Chief Information Officer Allen Square consulted his vendors, who told him that a solution would cost millions of dollars and take years to implement.
Blight Remediation Dashboard
Number of Blighted Housing Units Demolished
But New Orleans is home to neighborhood activists like Rita Legrand, who had attended 400 property code violation hearings hoping that administrative judges would force a cleanup in her community.
When New Orleans city staff partnered with a team of Code for America fellows to address the problem, they worked with residents like Miss Rita (as Legrand is known to her neighbors) to understand the needs of the people, as well as the government. We need to get this stuff torn down," Miss Rita said. "It's just terrible...At least if you tear it down, maybe a neighbor will mow the lawn.
Together, they integrated the data and built a web application called BlightStatus. The app makes it easy for anyone to look up any address in New Orleans and see a simple, clear history of the property, including reports of blight, inspections, hearings, and scheduled demolitions. The partnership not only resulted in a solution that worked for multiple users, but did so at a fraction of the time and cost of a traditional government vendor.
Map of Blighted Building Demolitions
New Orleans had a powerful weapon to wield in the fight against blight: data. The city enlisted Code for America fellows to unlock their blight data and make the status of blighted properties easy to look up.
When fellows started the project, blighted property data was in different formats and owned by multiple local agencies. Just like Miss Rita, many residents spent hours each week keeping tabs on what was going on with blighted lots in their neighborhood. Staying up-to-date meant attending city meetings, conducting surveys of neighbors, and doing research on city and county websites. The information discovered in their search was organized using maps, Word documents, and spreadsheets.
The fellows helped the city build BlightStatus, a website that aggregates data about inspections, code compliance, hearings, judgments, and foreclosures. The app crunches data from multiple city departments, giving end users a simple search box that unlocked all the information available for any address in the city. Residents could add properties to their watchlist to keep tabs on updates and get alerts about hearings or other decisions.
Units Demolished by Neighborhood
Inspections by Neighborhood
By itself, BlightStatus couldn’t mow overgrown lawns, paint over graffiti, or renovate vacant buildings. But the app opened up a new, easy-to-use link between the city and community, keeping everyone on the same page and giving residents the chance to make their voice heard.
The tool also helped city employees keep up-to-date with changes to properties, and stay accountable for promised changes. City employees used BlightStatus to make data-driven decisions about what blight-solving tools they should wield at a given property: abatement, demolition, or real-estate use.
Blight Complaints Timeline
For the first time, residents could track each step of the blight eradication process from inspections to resolutions. This data helped residents take ownership of their neighborhood and advocate for improvements. The city used open data to redefine the relationship between residents and government.