In a recent talk Lamar Gardere, the former Chief Information Officer for the city of New Orleans, pointed out that giving citizens access to databases built public trust and increased feedback from residents.
The city began with the BlightSTAT program run by the Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA) which resulted in the elimination of over 15,000 blighted units from 2010 to 2015.
“People could see what they were seeing in real life was showing up in the data,” said Gardere.
The OPA team recently concluded a pilot program using behavioral science to improve voluntary homeowner compliance. Currently when a 311 complaint about potential code violations at an address is filed, the city needs to research and inspect the property before making any further necessary actions. Adding a new initial step was tested, whereby homeowners receive a letter stating that a 311 complaint had been made about their property. It was found that the letters meant homeowners were more likely to voluntarily bring their properties into compliance and the city, upon physical inspections, found a 6% reduction in code violations. This success led to full implementation of the program, saving the city the equivalent of approximately the cost of one full-time inspector.
If a property is not brought up to code, a number of steps are taken that can lead to the city having the legal authority to potentially demolish the house or foreclose on the property and sell it at auction. The decision is complex, as the city must take into account the property’s location, historical significance, market interest, condition, and other factors. In the past, this has led to a backlog of over 1,500 properties awaiting a decision.
In order to streamline the decision-making process, OPA tested machine learning algorithms on data that had been manually scored over 600 test case properties. Based on the tests, OPA built an in-house tool, the Blight Scorecard which enables staff to score a property and then receive a weighted recommendation between 0 and 100: 0 meaning the property should be demolished, and 100 meaning it should be sold. This has greatly increased the speed and consistency of the process and has improved the workflow of the city’s Code Enforcement Department.
According to Chad Dyer, Director of the Code Enforcement Department, “Using data to be smarter about our operations has been a total win for the city, for homeowners and for our neighborhoods.”