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WDWOT Member Update 1

Reposted from the WDWOT blog:

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Dear WDWOT Members,

Thanks for taking the red pill and becoming the very first paid members of the service! You can see the little Pet Blocks starting to fill in at http://whydontweownthis.com/membership :-)

We’ll try to refrain from over-communicating via email but you can always follow what we’re up to and reach out to us any time through http://facebook.com/makeloveland and http://twitter.com/makeloveland .

Still, we wanted to let you know about some things going on one week out from the first update of 2013 and stay in the habit of updating everyone through one channel or another:

Visit Us:

Thursday, February 7th from 7 - 10 PM there’s an open house with food and drinks at the downtown Detroit office space we share with some other great projects called the Department of Alternatives. Info and RSVP if you want to come by and meet: http://www.facebook.com/events/395934023833651/?fref=ts .

Feedback:

Please let us know at team@makeloveland.com or the feedback forum if there’s anything at all we can do to improve your experience using the service. Right now we have lots of different kinds of general users and are trying to better define and serve different use-cases. Some of you are actively making maps and surveying properties, some of you are going over foreclosure risks in your neighborhood, some of you are looking up property owners, and others (most) just check in periodically when something in the world piques your interest. Maybe one of the biggest things we’ve noticed is that we should do a better job letting you know when you’re making notes completely privately for your own record, so when you do check in you can easily scribble a note just for yourself without talking to the world. 

Meetings, meetings, meetings…

Earlier this week we met with the Wayne County Deputy Treasurer to continue our conversation about keeping our data fresh and helping prevent foreclosures. Next week we meet with the head of Detroit’s Planning & Development Department to see about updating our list of city-owned properties, and after that we meet with the Director of the Detroit Land Bank who will likely be taking ownership of the nearly 9,000 unsold 2012 tax foreclosure properties. You should know that part of our job is developing these relationships to help deliver you more and better information and utility. 

Features & Data Updates:

We’re working to get our first mobile photo app up on the Members-Only Labs section of the site. The project code name is “Blexting” and is being developed for the purpose of quickly taking and posting pictures of extremely blighted things to the map. We’re also working on a few new data layers for you to view the city through, likely city-owned, land bank-owned, and bank-owned next.

Business & Block Club Packages:

Alongside individual site memberships, we’ve been developing private, customized, multi-user WDWOT packages for businesses, large projects, neighborhood groups and block clubs, and government departments. We just signed up a large custom project we’ll be working on and are meeting with more businesses and block clubs who are interested in having a version of the service focused on their jobs and communities. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, please let us know.

WDWOT In The News:

We’ve been excited by the number of people talking about the site, particularly the tax status view, which is something no one’s really seen before. A couple of neat articles in particular:

Huffington Post Detroit: “‘Why Don’t We Own This’ Site Maps Detroit’s Housing Crisis With New Tools To Battle Back” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/28/why-dont-we-own-this-detroit_n_2550299.html

The Atlantic Cities: “Detroit’s Property Tax Black Hole, in Map Form” http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2013/01/detroits-property-tax-black-hole/4517/

Thanks:

Thanks again. We’re looking forward to continuing to develop the service beyond your expectations in 2013. Reach out anytime and share http://whydontweownthis.com with your networks when you see a need,

The LOVELAND & WDWOT Team

(Jerry, Mary, Larry, & Alex)

1 year ago

February 1, 2013
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The Dead Dishwasher Dilemma & Other Analogies: Notes From A Recent Talk

This is a hopefully more eloquent summary of a short talk I gave at the recent Model D IdeaLab session at the Detroit Revitalization and Business conference at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. The analogies are some of the things that went through my mind as we worked on the new release of WDWOT.com.

It’s not an especially comprehensive list, but I think they’re interesting/useful little vignettes that I attempted to connect in a 7 minute talk. It’s maybe a little goofy in parts, but hey, who do you think is writing this? :-) And I typed it straight through, please forgive any typos.
 

☆★✡✯

The Dead Dishwasher Dilemma

& Other Analogies


1. Dead Dishwashers
2. A Pair of Glasses
3. Taxes & Crowdfunding
4. Visions & Vacuums


 
☆★✡✯
 
1. Dead Dishwashers

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As we study the scale and specificities of Detroit’s information, disinvestment, ownership, foreclosure, and land use problems, it becomes clearer and clearer that no city has ever had to face a problem this large before, with such a vast constellation of contributing factors and related problems. There can be an understandable criticism of city management when it comes to how these problems are being dealt with, but I want to help put you in a more empathetic and constructive frame of mind when considering the actions or inactions of various city, county, and state departments. 

Imagine that you’re a dishwasher. When times are good and things are going well, you’re receiving dirty dishes, washing them, and getting them right back out into circulation.

When things are busy, the dishes start to pile up faster than you can clean them. You have to work harder and stay later, probably for no extra pay and certainly a lot of extra grief.

Then, suddenly, 5,000 dump trucks full of dirty dishes pull into the parking lot, back up to the building, unload all at once, the building collapses, and you die.

You just die.

And the mountain of dishes continue to pile up as the world waits for you to do your impossible job.

So what we have now isn’t a dishwashing problem, it’s a large-scale cleanup and emergency reinvention problem that involves more than soap and water.

I don’t want to torture the analogy too much, but it resonates with my general observation after talking to many different departments about why they haven’t yet shared public data with the public (they struggle to grasp it and keep up themselves), or been able to create new policies that effectively respond to the disaster (when a tornado hits your house, does it make sense to start vacuuming the carpet when there’s a hole in the wall?). I hope we can all empathize with dead dishwashers who were crushed on the job, and think about how we can help dig them out, revivify them, and get the restaurant going again.

☆★✡✯
 

2. A Pair of Glasses

 
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[Note, you may need a pair of glasses to read this image, if so go here]

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I was productively browsing Reddit the other day and clicked on a thread called “What medical condition do you have that you thought was absolutely normal?” One of the most popular reports was people thinking they could see perfectly fine until they put on a pair of glasses, and then having their minds absolutely blown by the new level of detail they could see in the world. 

We use the glasses analogy a lot with WDWOT: we’re building regular glasses, x-ray glasses, magic glasses: something that helps you see deeper into the world around you.

I think that Detroit has a very serious vision problem, not just a vision like a long-term vision like the Detroit Future City project is trying to address, but an everyday vision problem that we really can’t see what’s happening right here right now before our eyes. Detroiters need information glasses. We give a damn, and yes, hustle harder, but we’re largely blind and think it’s normal. This means we can’t be as effective as we should be and that even if you understand the city in your bones through a long life here, there’s a whole world of understanding you are missing out on.

One of my favorite comments on the thread was this:

"Before I had glasses I just assumed that everyone saw the same as me. I remember the first time playing cricket with glasses and was amazed at how I could now see the ball after it was hit. It was like everything was in HD now, I spent ages just staring at grass thinking "holy sh*t""


I laughed because we spend a lot of time looking at parcels of land in the city thinking the same thing. Holy shiz! There it is! The situation, in much more precise and actionable detail. Look at ‘em all! Wow!


To use a topical example where glasses would have helped everybody, recently there was a large land sale of 1,500 city-owned properties to the Hantz Woodlands Project. There was a loud debate about the merits of the deal that took place without anyone wearing their glasses. Actually I think a lot of the heat in the debate came from people’s frustrations that they don’t have glasses. Lots of stories were shared about people trying to figure out what the city owns in their neighborhoods and then purchase or use things just like a much more highly equipped and capitalized developer who was able to make their own pair.

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It’s interesting to see the spread of the 1,500 properties, which is very different from what you might blur-ily imagine to be large, contiguous football fields of space. The properties are actually dotted and loose, ducking behind and around people’s houses and other privately owned lots. It’s buckshot. Not what you expect.

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And if you put on your x-ray glasses to look at the tax distress map and see what’s likely to go to the foreclosure auction this year, it opens a whole new vista on what’s happening here. It’s also interesting to look at the 2012 foreclosure auction and see that hundreds of properties in the area went unsold for $500, when absolutely anyone anywhere could have purchased them without question. Alex and I were at the Hantz open city council hearing and one of the council members asked, “Have we ever sold this much land before? I don’t think so.” Sure we did. Just a month or so prior we sold about 5 times as much to strangers from wherever with no real notice or mention.

That’s what happens when you don’t wear your glasses. I don’t think glasses are intentionally being kept from people, it just goes back to the dead dishwasher dilemma. 

☆★✡✯

 
3. Taxes & Crowdfunding

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We’ve done a lot of work and experimentation around the crowdfunding of projects, and plan to do more in the future, maybe even working on the crowdfunding and community ownership of properties. Somebody asked me not too long ago: “What is the biggest crowdfundraiser of all time?”

I thought hard about it, and my mind jumped the rails from things like Kickstarter to really thinking about what things crowds of people collectively pay for. Viewed that way you can see taxes as crowdfunding, and the United States of America as perhaps the world’s biggest crowdfundraiser (sort of ironic since when the US started it was to flee taxes). 

Looking at the overwhelming tax distress map of Detroit and seeing the nearly half a billion dollar property tax and penalty collection deficit, you can really see why city services aren’t funded. The current situation combines broad poverty where people can not afford to pay what are some seriously high taxes and really crazy penalties, with a culture that doesn’t really see the point. What are we paying for again? We’re not even covering the salaries of city employees much less the actual things they need to do, which is presumably the point of paying them.

This is still a hazy thought, but there is huge room for innovation in how taxes are priced, targeted, and made transparent so that people feel ABSOLUTELY GREAT when they pay them. It’s a general problem of taxes and why no one likes them. You simply feel like money is being wicked away from you without seeing any direct benefit. Maybe Detroit can be an innovator here and use the opportunity of the current tax disaster to create a new, fairer, clearer, more localized system where payments are understandable and lead to direct benefit.

It’s a crude analogy, but right now the city is like a Kickstarter that no one wants to fund, even if they can. My money goes towards what again? Paying for dead dishwashers?

I don’t know what will or should happen, but tax distress is so deep and so widespread that something will have to be reinvented if we’re going to properly crowdfund the city again.

☆★✡✯

 
4. Visions & Vacuums

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Aristotle gets credit for saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” meaning every space is required to be filled with something, even if it’s just air. As we talk about the future of the city that currently has so many buildings and places seemingly full of nothing, you can be sure that something’s coming. 


It doesn’t have to be so scary if we can find a way to better invite and guide things into the vacuum, but let me present a scary thought to you.
 

As we all know from innumerable news stories and discussions and the felt experience of Detroit’s dire financial situation, we’re quite likely looking at an emergency financial manager or bankruptcy. It’s part of the physics of the vacuum that when things fall apart, some sort of corrective force attempts entry.


Recently a surprisingly serious pie-in-the-sky proposal was made to sell Belle Isle for a billion dollars and create a new commonwealth with its own rules, laws, tax system, and limitations on who can live there. 


Setting aside the question of whether it’s a good idea or not (it doesn’t sound like a great idea to me, but it is an interesting vision, articulated more clearly than most), the whole thing sounds so impossibly nutty that you can’t even process the notion that something like that could happen. The thought enters the mind and then leaves. “Yea, maybe we can paint the sky purple, too. Now what’s for lunch?.”


But when you combine the earlier analogy of dead dishwashers, a lack of glasses, and the financial distress of an unfunded city full of vacuums, you need to consider what might happen if the city truly goes bankrupt under these conditions. 


Bankruptcy is a situation where a new dishwasher who’s very much alive will sit down with his glasses on and review every vacuum in the city: a judge with total information of assets and debts looking at what there is to be sold off to repay what the city owes. It will be his or her legal responsibility.


I’m guessing a billion dollar offer on a cherished but technically “non-performing asset” like Belle Isle, along with the promise of billions of dollars more in investment, would look like a pretty clear win. Pie-in-the-sky somehow becomes sobriety.


You might be aware of the current debate over whether or not to let the State of Michigan pay for and manage Belle Isle as a state park. To my understanding that hasn’t happened yet basically over the concern of losing something, even if nothing really changes and the loss is largely symbolic to some. You might also view it as an effort to keep something pretty decent-sounding of a vacuum that demands something.


There’s something really important here as relates to how Detroit manages its vacuums and invites investment. There’s no clear way to do it right, and hindsight is always 20/20, but as we put on our glasses and look at the city, we have to get real and become excited about guiding the things we want to see into our vacuums and less focused on pushing everything out. Because if we spend time pushing things out that are ready to go and seem pretty good, not only do we lose out on our best chance of helping make them good and feeling that shared thrill of success, but there will come a point where something less good appears, and choice won’t be a part of that conversation.


Playing chicken with a vacuum just displeases the chicken and covers the floor in feathers. And with that I have clearly overplayed my analogy quota. My apologies.


Some things to think about as we help bring dead dishwashers back to life.

1 year ago

January 27, 2013
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"Excuse me, human! Which Way To The Detroit Dog Park?"

Nothing motivates like a deadline, and there are 2 weeks to raise $10,000 for the creation of Detroit’s first off-leash dog park.

Here’s what I’m asking from you, dear reader:

Check out the Detroit Dog Park project on Kickstarter and watch the video: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/370893558/detroit-dog-park 

Look inside yourself and think for a second: Would you like to see a dog park in Detroit? 

Since the answer is likely yes, please consider these 2 options:

If money is super tight (if…ha!) or you don’t have a particular dog in this fight, erm, park, pledge something really really small, like $1, or $5 or $10, or whatever you can muster.

Remember! There are 2 numbers that count here: The amount of money raised towards the goal *and* the number of backers: that all-important showing of love and support.

Every single time the number of backers goes up, a ripple of toothy smiles spreads across the entire dog park team and thereby to their dogs. Try it! It feels great!

If you *do* have a dog who will make use of the park (coming to Corktown, right next to downtown, easily accessible to many all around Metro Detroit), or support those who do, consider this:

What is it worth to you as a caring dog owner (or appreciator) to have a safe and inviting place for your dog to run, play, socialize with other dogs, and to meet other such caring folk?

As you can see on the Kickstarter page, the physical design of the park is going to be great, and if you or your business can donate at the $250 level or above you’ll get a beautiful custom brick like so:

Detroit needs more community spaces that give people a reason to stand outside with other people, meet strangers, and talk about the world, while surrounded by puppies.

While I don’t work on the project directly I know the people that do (and live with one…and her dog) and can vouch for their energy and organization to get this done.

Why? One simple lesson I’ve learned over the past 6 months: DOG PARK PEOPLE DON’T MESS AROUND!!!

Thank you very much, and please spread the word,

Jerry Paffendorf, Detroit Dog Park Fan and $250 Backer

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/370893558/detroit-dog-park

1 year ago

December 3, 2012
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All WDWOT and Auction All The Time

For the past while it’s been all Why Don’t We Own This? and blogging with Alex on the WDWOT blog. Back here soon, but in the meantime…

20,000 detroit properties are being auctioned for $500 from october 19-26. see something and say something at http://whydontweownthis.com

it’s like x-ray glasses for the city

(•_•) , 
( •_•)>⌐□-□ 
(⌐□_□)

also on the twit circuit with a live feed athttp://twitter.com/wdwot

2 years ago

October 17, 2012
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Techonomy Detroit Presents “I See Tech People” Directed By M. Night Shyamalan

Yesterday there was a pretty big technology conference in town called Techonomy. Tickets were $500 so I didn’t really think hard about going (after all you can buy a house for that price around here, which is primarily what’s on our mind with the county auction now in progress and being tracked at whydontweownthis.com ;-)).

Still, it crossed my mind that this is the sort of event that doesn’t happen often in Detroit (which needs more pixels with it’s atoms) and I should probably be there shaking hands and kissing babies to represent LOVELAND’s projects.

Well, I didn’t make it, but I did have a really nice time driving conference-going tech writer Erick Schonfeld around town on a little sampler plate tour (connected via Twitter by mutual friend and cool dude Andy Weissman at Union Square Ventures — the technology, it works…sometimes!), and a tiny clip of me as a talking head shot by Erick on his iPad even ended up on the site along with videos of the conference speakers (which are all posted here). That was a cool surprise! 

Here’s the video clip of me, posted first because it’s super short, and a couple talks I found interesting. One with Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey, and another with Quicken Loans can’t-miss-Detroit-investor-skyscraper-fire-sale-family-mafia-man Dan Gilbert.

Jerry AKA me, taken from this post talking about ghosts, somehow — sadly the video ends before my eyes bug out like Large Marge, I disappear into vapor, and Erick wakes up screaming in a completely different city <— woo, working pretty hard to rap in the “directed by M. Night Shyamalan” reference there:

Jack Dorsey:

Dan Gilbert:

2 years ago

September 13, 2012
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No Property Left Behind Invitation: Who, What, Where To Crowdfund At The Detroit Tax Foreclosure Auction?

The Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction touches every neighborhood in Detroit with more than 20,000 properties being auctioned citywide in September and October. In recent years more than 1/2 have not sold and been left behind even at $500:

This is an invitation for neighborhood groups, block clubs, motivated locals, and etc, who would like to take ownership of tax foreclosure auction properties near them that no one else bids on, to please contact me at jerry@makeloveland.com or on the telephone at 313-649-5263.  

The nutshell premise is this: From October 19-25 thousands of Detroit properties all over the city will be auctioned for $500 (everything that does not sell for back taxes in September). You can see what’s coming up near you at whydontweownthis.com and if you have a clear, simple, trust-worthy plan for renovating, re-using, deconstructing, cleaning, selling, renting, or otherwise making improvements or productive use of some of these properties that no one else bids on, we’re interested in promoting you and your efforts and helping you raise the funds to acquire them.

Read on for more: 

—-

Over the past couple months I’ve had some really great meetings and gotten good advice, I think, on the No Property Left Behind idea to crowdfund the purchase of $500 properties that no one else bids on in Detroit. See the original post and update here.

For those just tuning in, at last year’s Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction (link from whydontweownthis.com), more than 7,000 of the 13,000 properties being auctioned for $500 in Detroit did not sell (this year the starting number of properties is 20,000…). In rough numbers that means if someone had wanted to purchase 7,000 otherwise unpurchased properties it would have cost them $3.5 million. 

That is not very much to many wealthy people and companies, and also, interestingly, not very much for a motivated crowd of people who care about Detroit. 

Of course, crowdfunding the properties does not solve what happens to them on the other side. Still, it’s intriguing because in one fell swoop it would open the door to massive innovation in how Detroit does land, moving beyond the armchair question of what you would do with such an inventory if you were the city, the county, the state, or the various land banks and large owners right now, to *what are we going to do right now!* Eek!

There is value to that, and it would be amazing, for sure. If you put your daydream hat on and one, two, skip a few, the entire world would tune in for something so grand, and, the network being what it is these days, resources would likely start appearing to fund the many things that needed to be done. It could be the moment when the red tape is cut, the excuses run dry, and Detroit finally thaws in the light of increased transparency, donations, visitors, and investment. 

Woo!

But. Recognizing that that is an awful lot of liability, guaranteed chaos, and a management problem quite likely above our current pay grade (mighty tho we be), there might be other options for getting at the same thing in more bite-sized chunks working directly with neighborhood organizations and hyper-local people who are interested in taking on auction properties near them that get left behind on a project by project basis.

The only way to find out is to gauge people’s interest, so I’ll use just a few quick one-examples, and hope you reach out if you’re interested or share it with people, groups, and networks you think would be:

• A block club discovers that there are 5 properties coming up at auction in their area and wants to raise the $2,500 to buy them all if no one else does. The properties are known to be dangerous and blighted houses that need to be taken down, so they additionally ask for deconstruction resources, either time, money, or equipment.

• A charitable organization focused on a neighborhood with 1,000 properties coming up at auction decide they can handle 100 of them that are either livable homes or vacant lots, with the goal to find renters and people that want to garden or otherwise maintain the land. They set an ambitious $50,000 goal knowing that their nonprofit status does away with property taxes and binds them to a trusted charitable purpose for the properties which they can extend to their existing network.

• A farmer identifies 2 contiguous lots near his existing farm and seeks sponsorship in purchasing them where funders will get some food in the next growing season.

Etc.

Again, if you’re interested in taking on specific auction properties that you’re familiar with and have plans for in areas near you, please write me at jerry@makeloveland.com or call 313-649-5263. No guarantees, but if you have a trustworthy idea and network, something really great could be sparked here!

2 years ago

September 10, 2012
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Why Don’t We Own This? Updates!

For those playing the home game, check out what’s new with Why Don’t We Own This?

As you may already know, Wayne County, Michigan is about to auction off another 22,506 tax foreclosure properties, with more than 20,000 of them in Detroit. Dang. (Round 1 is September 14 - 20 where bids open at the cost of back taxes. Round 2 is October 19 - 25 where bids open at $500. For official auction information visit www.co.wayne.mi.us/5143.htm.)

This post will do its best to quickly walk you through what’s fresh with WDOT, including:

• QUICKLY FIND YOUR STREET
• BUILD LISTS OF PLACES TO FOLLOW 
• DRAW NEIGHBORHOODS & SEE WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE
• ASK & ANSWER QUESTIONS
• TALK ABOUT PLACES 
• SHARE PHOTOGRAPHS & SURVEY PLACES
• LIVE BID TRACKING & NEWS FEED
• LET US KNOW WHAT STINKS & WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE NEXT
• START OR FIND A PROJECT?

We are always a work in progress, so if anything is confusing or not working right, please please please reach out to us at team@makeloveland.com or 313-649-5263.

Hokay, so…

Last year LOVELAND created the WDWOT service to help make the auction more understandable. It’s not that we love auctions, but we love cities, we love Detroit, we love the internet, and we couldn’t help but notice that tens of thousands of properties were sloshing around for $500 each and no one had any idea what was going on.

At the outset I’ll ask that if you find this information useful, please share whydontweownthis.com with your friends and the people you think should see it. At a minimum that’s everyone living in Detroit where the auction literally touches every single neighborhood.

Also Note: WDWOT is entirely free to use but we do recommend that you log into the site through your existing Facebook account or by creating a LOVELAND account. You don’t need to be logged in to explore what properties are being auctioned in Detroit and Wayne County, but you do need to log in to interact with the site and save your work.

• QUICKLY FIND YOUR STREET

The first, simplest thing to do when you hit whydontweownthis.com is to type your street name or street of interest into the search box. The map will zoom in and you can see if there are auction properties right around you. (Here I am searching for Dolphin Street after reading that a U-Haul truck stolen from the US Secret Service with equipment for a Joe Biden event was recovered there… I don’t know, man, I just live here… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯):

• BUILD LISTS OF PLACES TO FOLLOW

Anyway, from there, if you’re signed in and see a property or area you want to follow and get updates on, just click it, then click the heart icon on its page, like so:

It’ll get added to the list on your profile (privately so no one else has to see what you’re following) and you’ll get an email every time someone posts a new comment or photo to it, or places a bid on it. Bam. Suddenly you’re in the loop.

• DRAW NEIGHBORHOODS & SEE WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE

To get a little fancier — and I think this is probably the coolest new feature with a lot of future potential, too — you can now draw a neighborhood or area boundary on top of the city, name it, save it, and see exactly what’s going on inside it.

Let me show rather than tell, using the “100 Houses Project” area as an example. A couple weeks ago radio host Mitch Albom and others hosted an event in Detroit’s Osborn neighborhood where volunteers boarded up 100 houses in a day. Detroit Free Press reporter, Megha Satyanarayana did a write-up here and used an earlier version of this tool to pull some numbers.

See here what it looks like when you draw an area outline and give it a name:

Underneath that, WDWOT automagically shows you data about the area like how big the area is, how many total properties it has, how many of those are at auction, how many are structures versus vacant lots, how many have bids so far, how much it would cost to buy them all at round 1 (the back taxes round) and at round 2 (the $500 round), and who the top owners of property and of foreclosed properties at auction are:

This can be quite revealing, as in this case what the volunteers (not to mention the residents!) could not possibly see with their eyes is that more than 1/3 of the 100 houses they boarded up are going to auction, likely purchased for $500 if at all, and that more than 1 out of 10 properties in the entire area will be at auction as well. Sheesh! Nor could they see that amongst the top owners within the area are the City of Detroit, the Michigan Land Bank, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, and Deutsche Bank.

You can also toggle between all comments and photos posted by others within the area. But moving on!

• ASK & ANSWER QUESTIONS

There’s also a new Question & Answer section where you can ask anything about the auction, land ownership, rehabbing or tearing down properties, Detroit, etc etc. A lot of questions come up again and again, or can’t be satisfactorily answered by us as an independent group who is far from expert, so this should be helpful:

• TALK ABOUT PLACES

You can comment on properties, which can be about all sorts of things. I like to point out when I see houses at auction that are occupied (and whenever I can I ask the person if they know their house is at auction). If you have a story about a property or neighborhood, or an idea or concern, why not share it? Letting someone know that something will be a difficult investment or inviting someone to take something on can be helpful in creating best outcomes for everyone. 

I do want to point out that we currently moderate comments on the site because we want to keep it a safe, friendly place for discussion. Our listed conversation policy may seem a little funny, but if you’ve been around the comment block we hope you appreciate it (you’ll get an email confirming your comment was received, and another email when it’s approved):

Conversation Policy: Keep it constructive. Comments containing foul language, attacks against people or groups, racism, bigotry, defeatism, overt negativity, haterade, holier-than-thouness and/or general jackassery will not be posted. Please address others like you were standing in the same room. This is a safe place. 

• SHARE PHOTOGRAPHS & SURVEY PLACES

You can also post photos to properties, which is something we’d love to see more of. We automagically link to a Google Streetview image of every property, but those are often years out of date. Now you can take a current picture of properties and share them through the site. For example, here’s a photo set I made of all the unoccupied auction properties in North Corktown (my personal rule is to note places that look occupied and don’t photograph them):

• LIVE BID TRACKING & NEWS FEED

Well that was fast! Just after posting this, Larry got the feed up that shows all public site activity (comments, photos, questions, answers, neighborhood drawings, bids, etc), check it out: whydontweownthis.com/feed!

Right now the Feed section is set up to start showing bids and winners when the auction starts, but soon it will also show public contributions as they come into the site (comments, photos, questions, answers, new neighborhoods, etc) to help you discover what all’s going on out there.

• LET US KNOW WHAT STINKS & WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE NEXT

For the rest of what’s there, please click around, and please please PLEASE tell us when you hit any snags or dislike anything whatsoever. Cold, constructive criticism is needed to improve the service and you will not hurt our feelings (we’ve been beaten down many times before and know we have polishing to do :-)). 

You can write us any time at team@makeloveland.com or call us at 313-649-5263. 

• START OR FIND A PROJECT?

The only other thing I’ll tease and ask for ideas on is a “Start or Find A Project” section to the site. If you’ve been following our work you may have seen me write about an idea to crowdfund properties: “No Property Left Behind”. We’re still trying to find the perfect area of the city to focus on for a pilot, and it seems like a section of the site where people can propose projects and connect with others either to co-purchase properties or pool resources to deconstruct or rehab or grow something etc would be powerful.

Anyway, that’s more than enough, thanks for reading! If you want to follow general updates on our work we post at facebook.com/makeloveland and twitter.com/makeloveland. To be continued… 

2 years ago

September 5, 2012
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Detroit Vacant Property Coalition — Area Boundaries, Foreclosure Stats, & Questions

Detroit has the measles. In the black box are 290 tax foreclosed properties coming up for auction within the Warren Avenue Community Organization boundaries:

Last week Janai Gilmore from Michigan Community Resources reached out and asked if I’d meet with and present to a group called the Detroit Vacant Property Coalition at 6:30 on September 11. Sure, sounds like something I’d do! :-) The point is: 

"to talk about the work Loveland Technologies is doing to make property ownership information as well as information about tax foreclosed properties accessible for residents. Our members also have questions for you such as what you feel are the most effective ways to work with the city and the county to get information; how you update your data sets; and whether you are open to working with the community to address their data needs."

I’m excited for this, so I went ahead and used Why Don’t We Own This? to draw boundaries over the areas of the city each of the coalition’s 17 member groups represent (minus a couple I couldn’t figure out) and calculated how many properties they each have coming up at the tax foreclosure auction. Between 15 of them there are 3,450 of Detroit’s 20,032, or just over 17% of all auction properties in Detroit.  

If you click the links you’ll see a boundary map with all the properties at auction:

• Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp = 294 tax foreclosures at auction

• Warren/Conner Development Coalition = 894 tax foreclosures at auction

HELCO Block Club = 10 tax foreclosures at auction

• Barton MacFarlane = 376 tax foreclosures at auction 

WACO (Warren Ave Community Organization) = 290 tax foreclosures at auction

• University District Radio Patrol = 16 tax foreclosures at auction

• Focus: Hope = 901 tax foreclosures at auction 

• Greater Woodward CDC = 214 tax foreclosures at auction

• CDAD = citywide

• Grandmont Community Association = accounted for Grandmont Rosedale Dev Corp

• Westtown Radio Patrol = unsure of boundaries 

• Creekside CDC = 127 tax foreclosures at auction

• Yorkshire Woods Community Organization = 272 tax foreclosures at auction

• Greenacres Woodward = 10 tax foreclosures at auction

• North Rosedale Park Community Association = 45 tax foreclosures at auction

• Arden Park East Boston Association = 1 tax foreclosure at auction

• 200 Lakewood Block Club = unsure of boundaries

Total: 3,450 tax foreclosures at auction

Round 1 of the auction is where 20,032 Detroit properties will be auctioned for their back taxes is just a couple weeks away, running September 14th through September 20th. After that what doesn’t sell will be auctioned for an opening bid of $500 from October 19th - 25th. In previous years more than 50% of properties did not sell in either round, leaving a ton of vacant, uncared-for properties. 

I’m asking Janai to share this information and area maps with the groups this week and hopefully get to hear back from each of them what would be most helpful to them in getting on top of the auction problem.

Some questions from the coalition:

I also asked there were any other particularly interesting questions or issues to think about beforehand and she responded:

• Increasing accountability for speculators who purchase properties at the Wayne County tax auction and subsequently neglect their properties

•Raising public awareness about tools available to access property ownership information; improving access to property ownership information

• Developing a relationship with Wayne County

Lots of thoughts here to be continued in a follow-up post. Anyone else?

First question for the coalition:

In a return question, one big thing on our minds over here that I’m hoping to hear something back from the group about is the No Property Left Behind idea I shared a little while ago, essentially crowdfunding the purchase of properties that no one else bids on and then trying to marry them to good purposes. We’ve been working more on how to execute that idea in a manageable way — targeting smaller areas with local partners rather than citywide — and one of the questions I have for each of the coalition groups is: Do you have interest in trying this approach and assuming ownership of foreclosure properties until you can find good private owners or other solutions? 

In its simplest terms, the way the scenario could work is this: Let’s say Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation says they want in. There are 294 properties in their area at the foreclosure auction. 294 x $500 = $147,000 if all were to be purchased. We help them post a fundraiser where people can pledge money towards the purchase of as many of these properties as possible. If it raises $25,000, we would then buy up to 50 $500 properties, deed them directly to Grandmont Rosedale DC, and help advertise the inventory so people can apply to work on, use, or purchase them: mow vacant lots, clean up dumping, tear down dangerous buildings, make art, farm, take ownership or occupancy, etc.

From talking to some different groups it seems like there’s often fear of taking on properties, but you know what’s going to happen if the county keeps owning it: most likely nada except further decay, and you lose your only chance to get site control no questions asked.

Very curious to hear what the coalition groups think and if there are any volunteers to try it. If so we can work out the devils in the details together and modify things as needed.

What else?

2 years ago

August 27, 2012
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Google Streetview + Physical & Data Decay

I’ve been driving around taking pictures of vacant Detroit properties coming up at the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction to post on Why Don’t We Own This. We include an image from Google Streetview on all the property pages with a link to the google map, but check out how off they can be.

These are 3 typical auction properties in North Corktown that have changed a lot since Google last checked in circa 2009, and sadly not in a good way, all blown out and busted or not there at all. Anyone know who’s got the best DIY streetview rig? 

3437 Cochrane:

Google Streetview:

Today:

3388 14th St:

Google Streetview:

Today:

3383 14th St:

Google Streetview:

Today:

2 years ago

August 20, 2012
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An Afternoon at the Belle Isle Zoo

Yesterday my friend Peter and I went for a bike ride to Belle Isle. The fence into the old zoo was open so we took a look around. Oh my god. Of many mind-blowingly unmaintained ruins and vacancies in Detroit, this has got to be up near the top. I had no idea it was so vast, and it’s right next to the swimming beach (here’s the satellite map, the walkway you see here is the long loop between Central and Loiter/Tanglewood).

I find it odd that I don’t really hear anything about the future of the zoo, even with the escalating discussion about how to fund and maintain Belle Isle.

Any ideas for this place? Honestly, if the walkways could be secured it would make a wonderful overgrown nature walk. The whole thing is other-worldly. A few pics:

2 years ago

August 3, 2012
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