After my… ahem… tirade against Movesmart.org, I felt kinda bad. I mean, they seem like such sweet, nice people with such good intentions. Granted, I still stand by everything I wrote in that post, but… in the spirit of wishing them well, I offer the following suggestions. I base them on this page on Netsquared.org that lists what Movesmart wants to do, and what sort of help it needs. Specifically, this passage:
What information will people interact with to make this change?Housing seekers, and the professionals that support them, will interact with three distinct data sets (and eventually four in later iterations of the site). Single point amenities will expose the convenience a neighborhood offers – financial institutions, schools, libraries, public transportation options, healthcare, government services, etc. Affordable housing opportunities, culled from the government agencies that fund them, will offer opportunities for housing seekers of limited means to take advantage of neighborhoods previously closed to them. Finally, a database of “neighborhood opportunities” – the programs and activities of community based organizations uploaded by said organizations, will connect new residents with new communities and put them on a path to true integration.
Okay, so a couple of actual suggestions made in the spirit of being constructive.
1. Include employment opportunities data.
Assuming for the time being that Movesmart really does want to help low income families, a top priority has to be distance of the housing to employment. Since Movesmart assumes that its audience has some income, some financial ability to make choices, I have to assume that its target audience is employed and not just waiting for welfare payments.
In that case, the distance to the major job centers will be critical. Will you have to take two trains and a bus to get to downtown, where the jobs are? Or is there a major office complex within walking distance?
There are commercial databases that list businesses by SIC code, including the number of employees. These can be geocoded and then plotted on a map. I think this information would be a real boon to anyone actually looking for low income housing, and is thinking about proximity to employment opportunities.
In addition, perhaps Movesmart can work with various job sites to have them send job listings over, geocode them, and plot those on a map. If I’m a poor housing-seeker, I’m more likely to look at a place that’s closer to a place where tons of job listings are than a place 25 miles away.
2. Get real crime data. Don’t be afraid to display them. Include policing information.
The thing about living in crappy neighborhoods is that your physical security becomes absolutely paramount. Gang violence, shootings, property crime, sexual assault, drug-related crimes – these things may be extreme rarities in the nice suburbs, but they are realities in poor neighborhoods. This is particularly true if we’re talking about public housing projects and their environs.
It would be an enormous disservice if Movesmart, in the name of helping lower income families find affordable housing, neglected to inform them about the true reality of crime in that neighborhood. Real estate agents and companies are very, very hesitant to include this info because of possible repercussions with the seller who is listing the home for sale. Not to mention legal ramifications under the Fair Housing Act. Movesmart, as a nonprofit dedicated to poor people, may be able to present accurate crime data, in detail, without worrying overmuch about whether the homeseller would pitch a fit.
I further suggest including policing data. For example, boundaries of police precincts, number of officers, any public reports/grades of the precinct and its police, and analytical data. For example, the ratio of cops to residents might be a very interesting statistic for someone looking to choose between two rough neighborhoods to know. Information on whether the police department engages in community policing, whether there have been a large number of police brutality complaints filed against a particular precinct or not, etc.
In some neighborhoods and cities, I believe it is imperative to talk about gang culture that may exist in that neighborhood. I know that if I moved into some public housing project, relying on information on Movesmart, only to have my son gunned down by local Crips or Latin Kings, I’m going to be looking to sue somebody. Since this data is someone difficult to get, nevermind make geographic into map overlays, perhaps you start by having community residents post on message boards/forums about gang activity in their neighborhoods, and what is or is not being done about it. Anonymity is, of course, absolutely paramount to protect the residents.
3. Include detailed demographic trends information of not just the target neighborhood, but surrounding neighborhoods as well.
This information will help someone assess whether the particular neighborhood is on its way up, or on its way down, or just stagnating. Even if the median household income in a particular neighborhood is half of the state average, if for the past six years, it’s been showing 10% annual growth, I would feel more comfortable that the neighborhood is headed in the right direction.
Furthermore, the surrounding neighborhood information is important as well. If my neighborhood is shady, but it’s bordered by real up-and-comers that are getting gentrified and made safer, it’s not a bad bet to think that some positive spillover effect will take place over time. On the flipside, even if my neighborhood is looking okay, if the surrounding areas are becoming lawless gangland jungles, then I’d best be looking to move elsewhere.
Anyhow, just a couple of thoughts on how Movesmart can actually try to help poor people find places to live… assuming good faith on their part, and genuine willingness to help.