John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
An unusual map shows the city's still struggling with a foreclosure rate of epic proportions.
What looks like a big hunk of moldy cheese is in fact the property-tax status of 384,861* properties, as logged by Wayne County's online tax portal. The lighter yellow boxes represent more than 59,000 distressed buildings where the owners haven't paid their taxes. Squished among them are a honeycomb of orange boxes, indicating that these properties have such a large backlog of delinquent taxes that they're now subject to foreclosure. (Count those up and you arrive at about 74,000 doomed properties.) The plots shown in red, meanwhile, are the 18,246 properties that have already been foreclosed.
On the bright side, gray areas mean those places don't have tax issues. Lucky!
The map is the creation of LOVELAND Technologies, a Detroit-based maker of "crowdfunding and social mapping systems." On the full, interactive version, you can zoom down to the level of streets to see who's behind on their payments on your block. Then, when you've selected an individual property, the map offers several ways to balance the tax debt – paying the fees online, for instance, or seeking a poverty exemption or financial assistance from grant-giving institutions. That means this bit of urban cartography isn't just neat to look at, but might help repay a little of the $444 million in taxes and penalties owed around Detroit.
As to why they built this map, called "Why Don't We Own This?," the LOVELAND team says:
We strive to provide property information in a clean and interactive way that is intuitive to use while increasing the sense of ownership and power a citizen has in their city. Hopefully WDWOT helps prevent the accidental and unnecessary loss of properties to tax foreclosure and auction, and helps connect you with otherwise invisible opportunities for enlightenment, investment, charity, and support.
FYI: If you're actually using this service to scout out or pay taxes on Detroit properties, be sure to check with the city's official records to make sure the info is up to date.
* Not 84,861, as originally written. D'oh!