Amid the region's ongoing response to the foreclosure crisis and general population shifts, the Thriving Communities Institute will undertake a citywide residential property survey this summer.
Paul Boehnlein, GIS and conservation planning specialist for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, heads up data management for projects like this. In short, a crew of surveyors hits the streets and catalogs every property via tablet — scraping basic geographic and political data and manually adding in subjective observations about the general condition of the property.
Properties are assigned a grade on a sliding scale (a "secure vacant structure" that earns a C or an "occupied structure" that earns a D, for instance).
"It's a snapshot in time; it doesn't tell us what the situation was [in the past]," Boehnlein said.
"But it's a true snapshot. It's a real snapshot, as opposed to the guesstimating that's been going on for a while," Thriving Communities Institute Director Jim Rokakis added. The "housing" conversation tends to veer into vagaries and generalities about what is a socioeconomically varied city. The upcoming survey is planned to provide a fact-based backdrop for future policy.
The end result of the job is a massive map that quantifies the number of distressed properties in an area. From 30,000-foot vantage points to granular inspections, GIS-backed data will then be used to inform the city's housing department.
The Cleveland Foundation has committed funds for this project.
In spirit, the project will mirror a recent St. Luke's Foundation-funded survey of Buckeye-Shaker, Buckeye-Woodhill and Mt. Pleasant, where median home sale prices plummeted from $70,000-$90,000 to $10,000-$20,000 between 2006 and 2013.
"From that project has sprung the interest in Cleveland about going out and doing the entire city," Boehnlein said. And it ultimately falls to the city to implement policy decisions, i.e. following through on budgeted demolitions, rehabilitations, etc.
The city partners with community development corporations to do rolling code enforcement inspections on a four-year basis. The Thriving Communities Institute survey will offer a broader and deeper dataset for those inspections.
"We're trying to supplement, as opposed to supplant. We're not trying to take their place; we're just trying to add to the work they already do," Rokakis said. "We're committed to this urban mission."