For Felicia Slaton-Young, executive director and co-founder of the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce, neighborhood development means more than looking at the future. She has been examining the neighborhood's past and present to better understand how disinvestment occurs. And, using Chicago Cityscape as a tool, she is more equipped than ever to make the case for equity.
At the specific property level, Slaton-Young uses Chicago Cityscape to identify building violations, particularly as tax sales occur and drive potential building owners to scour listings for commercial spaces. "People get really excited, but you got to understand the violations, because you're not just buying the taxes, you're taking on whatever liens are there, and the violation stays with the property and not the owner," said Slaton-Young. "And so that's been really helpful in helping people understand what they're really getting into and understanding what's the possibility of the real cost, if you bid and win."
As the executive director, she also often gets phone calls from people interested in purchasing a particular property, and she uses Cityscape to gather relevant information for sale—information like previous or current property owners, permits, and zoning. Since she isn't a real estate agent with access to the MLS, Cityscape allows her to pull vital information to assist with real estate transactions. When approached by small business owners seeking to move into a new space, she uses Cityscape to identify move-in-ready properties. She can also research other properties that her organization could acquire that could potentially house future businesses. This is particularly important when considering issues surrounding zoning.
"For properties that are zoned commercial or retail, Cityscape helps me understand what some of those [zoning] codes are. You can make broad assumptions—because you're on a commercial corridor that the area is actually zoned commercial or retail. And sometimes it's actually zoned residential. When I'm having conversations with folks who are interested in a particular piece of property, I can let them know about additional costs of going through the rezoning process," she said.
At 30,000-feet, Slaton-Young is also using Cityscape to better understand investment in Englewood, particularly flows of TIF funds, ownership, and opportunity zones. This is critical, she said, to piece together how disinvestment occurs.
For example, Slaton-Young might use the Address Snapshot Report to pull information on a particular property, but what also comes up is information on similar, nearby properties. "Down the street it's owned by somebody in Skokie," she said. "It gives me an understanding of who owns things in the area, because that's a big issue of contention: people feel like because there's been positive development like Englewood Square, there's a little bit of a land grab, because most of Englewood is considered an opportunity zone. So we feel like people are just buying up the properties just to own it with no real strategic effort about truly developing it."
She has also used Cityscape to look into existing or previous capital investments using the Lending & Investment Snapshot, evaluating whether or not those investments benefited the community. One particular case, she said, was using Cityscape to examine a carwash that received TIF funding every year for almost a decade.
"I'm trying to understand, out of all the possible applications that have come year over year, has anybody really taken a look and said, 'Well, what improvements have been made to the building that has justified the seven years of this person getting these TIF dollars'," she said.
This type of critical data analysis Slaton-Young conducts helps her approach potential funders and investors with opportunities that support the development and growth of the properties along specific corridors. Cityscape then becomes not just a tool for case-specific building and development information, but also a means to making comprehensive neighborhood change.