The Louisville Metro Government has set a goal to meaningfully reduce vacant properties and revitalize the disinvested West side
But with 6,000-plus vacant and abandoned parcels, Metro must strategically allocate its resources, and has embraced a data-driven approach to do so
Using BuildingBlocks to aggregate data on tax delinquency, property condition, and more, Louisville is able to prioritize at-risk properties, make evidence-based investments, and save weeks of staff time
Louisville, KY, is experiencing a lively upswing, with a vibrant culture, a growing population, and a mayor considered to be among the most innovative in the country. But there remain persistent pockets of disinvestment largely concentrated on the City’s west side, as well as spot blight in stronger neighborhoods. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Mayor Greg Fischer identified reducing vacancy below 10% in every Louisville neighborhood as one of the pillars of his Strategic Plan.
The Vacant and Public Property Administration (VPPA), led by Laura Grabowski, was tasked with chipping away over 6,000 vacant properties, or approximately 2.3% of the potential tax base, using a number of tools available to the Metro Government, including rehabilitation, foreclosure, and demolition.
“This is a long journey,” Mayor Fischer said. “This problem came about over decades, and it is not going to be solved overnight.”
With the number of vacants described as “staggering” in local media, Laura and her team knew they had to take a strategic, methodical approach to meet the Mayor’s target. That began with truly understanding the scale and nature of vacant properties, which Metro defines as having an unresolved code violation and the designation of vacant by an inspecting code officer during a field visit. But the data needed to make this determination resides in a number of systems outside of Laura’s department, can only be derived through a complex data manipulation, and is updated daily. She didn’t have the technical staff to constantly extract, clean, and analyze the data to stay on top of the critical number.
Additionally, Laura and her team knew that they had to whittle the total population down to those addressable by the tools available to the VPPA, which can only foreclose on or demolish a property with outstanding liens over $1,000 and over a year of recorded vacancy, adding more data sets for Laura’s team to consider, some of which resided with County agencies. Bringing together that information “would’ve been mounds of emails, multitudes of phone calls, trying to figure out who was the owner of what data across the County, the Sheriff’s Department, License & Inspection, and more,” described Grabowski.
Finally, Laura reasoned that even among those addressable properties, her team would have to prioritize which would be the best candidates for foreclosure or demolition. Limited funding and administrative resources meant that she had to prioritize the properties she could address each year. Laura envisioned that every action the VPPA takes should (a) be evidence-based & defensible, (b) move the needle on the Mayor’s objective, and (c) maximize the positive impact on the surrounding community.
By continuously bringing together information from separate sources and online records into a map-based analytical tool, BuildingBlocks gives Rob’s team complete property detail to get ahead of problems.
The VPPA turned to the BuildingBlocks application to accelerate their property qualification process and support their data-driven ambitions. BuildingBlocks integrates data on a nightly basis from the multitude of sources that Laura’s team needs to do their job effectively, including the County’s assessment roll, tax delinquency & liens, code violations, VPPA’s internal workflow management software, calls for service, and more. Her team could apply a few filters to the map-based interface and quickly identify what properties qualified in a few seconds. The results were eye-opening, with less than 2,000 categorized as addressable through VPPA’s core toolkit. The VPPA estimated that this diligence process would have taken ten weeks of work for a single administrator without BuildingBlocks, and it would have to be repeated on a regular basis to remain up-to-date.
The spatial analysis and data visualization tools within BuildingBlocks allow Laura’s team to dive deeper into these properties, segmenting them by neighborhood or Council District for easy reporting, determining whether they are in a neighborhood that exceeds the 10% vacancy threshold, and identifying those that are close to other VPPA or Metro Government redevelopment efforts.
“Now we can look at BuildingBlocks and fairly instantly say, ‘yes we should’ or ‘no we shouldn’t.’”
With a better grasp on what the VPPA could do with the tools at their disposal, Laura turned to figuring out what they should do given their limited resources. Using the BuildingBlocks Score feature, Laura’s team selected the relevant criteria to prioritize a property for foreclosure—including the length of time it has been vacant, the amount of liens on the property, the proximity to schools & parks, the neighborhood, and more—and ran the model with a single mouse click. Within the application, every property in Louisville was ranked from one to 99 based on the selected criteria, so Laura’s team can filter only those addressable properties that rank high on what Laura’s team calls the Foreclosure Score.