Holding Investors Accountable in Oakland

This is an excerpt from a new report by the Urban Institute featuring some of our work, get it here.

Following the foreclosure crisis, Oakland, CA, faced a serious problem with vacant buildings. Vacant properties, particularly if not well maintained, can affect the safety and quality of life in a neighborhood. The Alliance of Californians for Community Engagement (ACCE) along with the Urban Strategies Council, a local data intermediary, set out to address the numerous blighted and abandoned properties and ensure that banks were paying for the tax burden created by vacant foreclosed properties.5 To do this they had to first examine administrative property records to untangle the complex network of ownership entities that held controlling interests in these properties. They organized a campaign around the issue that resulted in new City of Oakland legislation to create a vacant property registry. Actually implementing the legislation proved to be a huge lift, but they were able to connect with a champion in the city bureaucracy who helped spearhead the registry’s development. Crucially, the final registry was made public, allowing concerned residents and neighborhood advocates access to the data.

The data from the vacant property registry allowed ACCE to hold absentee property owners accountable for property upkeep and maintenance and to ensure the city enforced fines associated with vacant properties. Further, ACCE drew on the registry to develop an evidence base for larger narratives about the wealth and inequality gap and limited enforcement of fines for large investors. Success with the property registry also inspired ACCE to thread data through more of its work demonstrating disparities and holding the government and corporations accountable. For example, ACCE has pushed the city to create a similar database on speculators and routinely uses data in political education workshops.