Baltimore City is looking to revamp the system it uses to buy and sell public property.
To do so, the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Develpment recently contracted a software tool from Boston-based Tolemi, called Slate. Partnering with the Department of Real Estate in the Baltimore City Comptroller’s office, the city is modernizing and centralizing data held in different systems and formats across departments and agencies in order to streamline information and decisionmaking regarding public properties.
With the tool, the City will be able to create, geocode, and integrate new property and project information into a map-based application, along with all other City data. The software will allow the departments to track the workflows associated with properties according to what stage they are in and how long they have been at a certain point in the process. It will also generate a dashboard, tracking exactly where every property is and identifying bottlenecks.
“It’s going to be a night and day improvement for our customers and internally as well for staff,” said Alice Kennedy, Acting Housing Commissioner. “It’s going assist us in expediting the disposition process and, overall, that provides a significant benefit to the taxpayer in terms of ease of use and better customer service.”
The system will help to digitize and automate spreadsheet-based, manual processes that are 15 years old. Officials said this will bring services like paying tax liens or purchasing vacants from the City to something more in line with an app that allows purchasing on the private market, like Zillow.
Last week, the City’s Board of Estimates approved the purchase of a three year license of Slate. The contract is valued at $423,000, per Board of Estimates documents.
The government agencies will be completely overhauling systems to reduce or eliminate redundant and manual tasks.
“One of the exciting things about Slate is the embedded process improvement, which requires us, with the assistance of the Slate team, to completely deconstruct a process that has been in place for many years and put it back to together in a way that promotes efficiency, transparency and equity,” said Andy Frank, the acting director of real estate in the Baltimore City Comptroller’s office.
Frank put the improvement in context by explaining how it will improve the City’s Vendor Lien Program, which sells tax certificates to buyers that agree to renovate a property for homeownership of or rental in exchange for a negotiated reduction in the lien amount.
Under the current system, buyers can only purchase three certificates for properties from the City through the program at a time, partly as a function of capacity.
Slate, in turn, increases that capacity by automatically creating the required tasks when a vendor’s lien process is initiated. The customizable form generation will eliminate the need to recreate and modify the same documents repeatedly, Frank said. Customer communications will be managed entirely within the platform and all documents are contained within the system, meaning there’s no need to file physical copies or store critical documents on local networks.
Implementation will occur in phases, which will take about four months from the City’s first engagement with the Slate team. Expect the first workflow in Slate to be built out by the end of this year. The whole revamp is expected to be done by summer of 2022.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.