Way back in 2011, we carried out a comprehensive study of the data landscape in the Bay Area related to the important work of affordable housing and neighborhood stabilization efforts for Enterprise Community Partners.  The report got delivered to our clients but we realized that we did not ever publish the results. Despite the time lag and the fact that the data landscape has changed somewhat, we feel it is still valuable for these results to be available to funders, affordable housing organizations, and local governments. Oakland is about to embark on some strategic directions related to housing affordability so this is even more useful as a resource to help inform those efforts.

** It should be noted that this work was completed back in 2011/2012. Since then, community pressure and some of our subsequent work has resulted in a lot of significant changes to city policy and inspection programs- these reports are useful to see where we’ve come from and also to help people in the field see some of the common challenges faces by community developmenent organizations.

This research had three distinct phases:

  1. A broad review of the available real estate-related data sources in Alameda County (including Oakland, Hayward, and Livermore), Contra Costa County (including Antioch, Richmond, and Pittsburg), and San Jose;
  2. A survey of 14 stakeholders in the affordable housing development sector focused on their data needs/problems; and
  3. A review of all the available and relevant code enforcement ordinances that relate to foreclosures.

The purpose of this data scan was to ascertain what information sources existes in each jurisdiction, and then assess the relevance and potential accessibility of those data sources for the NSP (Neighborhood Stabilization Program) grantees in the Bay Area.  Given that the work of the NSP program does not end with that funding pool, we hope this research will be of use in the region.

The Council’s survey of the NSP stakeholders regarding their data usage and needs was instructive, highlighting a host of concerns related to the lack of funding, staffing, and capacity to meaningfully use data on a regular basis in both governmental and nonprofit settings. Our findings from the local market data scan provide at least one additional possible reason why the NSP stakeholders do not routinely incorporate local, real-estate related data into their workflows: quality local (parcel-level) data is not readily accessible to the public, and even where it is available, it is often prohibitively expensive.

Findings

Costs for acquiring data from private companies vary widely and are often prohibitively expensive. Surprisingly, some of the publicly held data was found to be far more costly than any of the privately available datasets, a fact that appears counter to the idea that local governments can support and encourage economic growth by making local data accessible to interested investors and developers. Given that certain commercially available data such as housing transactions and foreclosure filings are initially recorded as public documents at a county Clerk-Recorder’s office, we flagged these data elements for later discussions with government officials.

Our scan revealed that several important data elements such as code enforcement, blight, and vacancy status were effectively not available from any source at a parcel-level to NSP grantees and other similar organizations. Most cities and counties collect information related to code enforcement actions; however, no Bay Area jurisdiction that we are aware of makes this data available to the public. Further, code enforcement and blight actions are generally complaint-driven; thus, even if a data set was available, it would predominately represent just those properties with complaints lodged against them rather than the complete universe of blight in a jurisdiction.

In the course of our interviews we also discovered that the County Clerk is the source of all foreclosure related filings, yet that agency does not actually create usable data during the documentation process, merely documenting very basic information and passing this off to private title companies to digitize and then sell back to the county, cities and to organizations (like ours) for thousands of dollars per year.  This arrangement has effectively privatized a public resource, not through malicious intent or corruption, simply as a result of old processes and a lack of technological progress in data management.
From our survey results, the most desired data for the affordable housing community were blight, crime and housing costs, yet most admitted that blight and crime data were hard to come by and therefore not often used in decision making processes.

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