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Mount Vernon uses data to fight “zombie” homes and blight

Mt Vernon, NY, USA
Tolemi

Government Champion

City Attorney, Code Enforcement, City Manager's Office

Project Status

Operational since 2017

At a Glance

Mount Vernon was hit hard by the financial crisis of 2007, leaving abandoned properties and ‘zombie’ homes sprinkled throughout the city. Without proper tracking, vacated properties were out of government sight and left to deteriorate. The city needed to better identify and catalogue deserted homes.

Problem Addressed

Like many communities across the country, the City of Mount Vernon, NY, was hit hard by the housing and financial crisis of the late 2000’s. Bank-owned foreclosures, properties abandoned by homeowners, and “zombie” homes vacated in the middle of the foreclosure process all took a toll on the City as they deteriorated, disproportionately affecting its lowest income neighborhoods.

A study by New York State Senators Jeff Klein and Jamaal Bailey estimated that bank-owned, abandoned, and “zombie” homes wiped out millions in property values in the City of just under 70,000 people.

Hans Marshalleck, a veteran city employee of 24 years, was appointed to coordinate Mount Vernon’s cross-departmental strategy to fight distressed and ‘zombie’ homes. A good way to start was by identifying and cataloguing the city’s vacant properties.

City of Mount Vernon used/is using the BuildingBlocks data integration and management solution to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

Unclear where to start, Marshalleck had a hypothesis about fire data, stating that “We have more fires than any city in Westchester county, and we suspect some people are taking advantage of fires to lower their assessment so they can squat on the houses with reduced tax burden.” This is where the city started their data centralization.

Mt. Vernon decided to use the BuildingBlocks application, a map-based application that connects and updates data held across systems bringing it into a single, web-based dashboard. With BuildingBlocks, the city was able to quickly generate a preliminary target list of properties with a fire incident, no subsequent building permits pulled for rehabilitation, and an open code enforcement case.

BuildingBlocks comes with ‘The Owner Profile Tool’ which provides data on every owner in your municipality and smart linking that identifies potentially related owners through shell LLC’s. This came in handy for Marshalleck.

Outcomes

  1. Access to extensive property owner data and history, allowing the city to readily identify and curb bad actors who regularly do poor or unpermitted renovation work
  2. The ability to closely preserve naturally occurring affordable housing with a completed data dashboard

Something Unique

The City discovered that many of the derelict properties were owned by a single LLC, cited numerous times for performing rehabilitations without a permit. With the pattern of behavior identified, the inspectional services team could closely monitor those properties and anticipate problems before they happen.

Who Should Consider?

Any city looking to better manage code enforcement, permitting and blighted properties.

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