CITY PULLS PLUG ON PLAN TO WIRE NABES TO HOUSING DATA BANK

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A cyber “one-stop shop” with data from five different city agencies for every residential building in New York–including a building’s code violations and tax bills–may never be released to the community groups for which it was created, City Limits has learned.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has found funding for an in-house version of the program, but won’t say whether backing will be forthcoming for a public model.

The program is part of a housing early warning system designed to help HPD intervene with landlords before buildings are abandoned. University researchers have been working since 1995 with a private foundation grant to create the abandonment predictor model and the one-stop data warehouse. “We spent nine months just meeting with agencies and dealing with data dictionaries,” said the project’s architect, Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work. “We held three focus groups with eight to 10 community groups about how people use information and what information they want, what makes their job easier.”

The academics delivered the systems to HPD several months ago, but the first glimpse of the projects given to community groups was at an October 21 meeting. The city has already tested the predictor model in a section of the Bronx and is working out the kinks on their in-house version of the system. Many at the meeting were less than enthused about the HPD predictor. “You still have to go physically look at a building, even if you pull it up on a computer,” said Wendy Sanchez from the Kingsbridge Riverdale Van Cortlandt Development Corporation. “The data warehouse sounds absolutely great, though, if it actually goes out to us.”

But HPD won’t say if the community-accessible version will ever see the light of day. “We’ll decide in the next quarter,” said Gabriel Bartell, the director of management reporting for the agency’s Division of Anti-Abandonment, who cites the expense of getting a system up and running for the delayed decision.

Some activists say the city is crying poverty because they have little interest in getting housing information to community groups. “It’s a question of accountability–anything that makes code enforcement public and subject to scrutiny is suspect,” says Andrew Goldberg, an attorney with MFY Legal Services. “They want this like the plague.”