Housing Off-Line

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A computer “one-stop shop” with data from five different city agencies for every residential building in New York City–including the number of I code violations and whether or not the building is in tax arrears–may never be released to the community groups for which it was created. 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 forthcom-ing for the 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 both an abandonment predictor model and the one-stop data warehouse. “We spent nine months just meeting with agencies and dealing with data dictionaries,” says one of the project’s architects, Dennis Cuihane 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 pro-jects 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 in their in-house version of the data warehouse. Many at the meeting were less than enthused about the HPD Environment predictor. “You still have to go physically look at a building, even if you pull it up on a computer,” says Wendy Sanchez from the Kingsbridge Riverdale VanCortlandt 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,” says 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 as the reason for the delayed decision.

“I’m concerned that the program is in a vacuum at the moment,” says Victor Bach of the Community Service Society. “We need to have a way to have a dialog with the city and help make sure this happens.” 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.”