This is big: Philadelphia just released property-tax delinquency data - Technical.ly Philly

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Dec. 28, 2015 12:56 pm

This is big: Philadelphia just released property-tax delinquency data

The release of a high-value dataset comes just days before Mayor Nutter leaves office.

Philadelphia property tax balance data is now available.

(Near symmetry between two front doors by luminousiens via Shutterstock)

In the sleepy week between Christmas and New Year’s, the Nutter administration dropped an open data bombshell.

For the first time, it released property tax balance data, including a developer-friendly API version, meaning that any technologist could build an app using the data. The release includes data on properties that are tax delinquent.

So why is this such a big deal?

It’s a high-profile dataset, given the City of Philadelphia’s well-recorded tax delinquency problem, and one that pushed Mark Headd, the city’s idealistic first Chief Data Officer, out of office, as he fought to get the dataset released.

It’s also a big deal internally: this could mean better data sharing across departments. Licenses & Inspections, for example, could use this data to alert them when tax delinquent property owners are applying for building permits.

The release marks a shift in Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson, who previously had privacy concerns about releasing a property tax balance API.

“Expanding access to property tax balance information allows users to understand the scale and detail of delinquency,” Tolson said in a statement.

That shift immediately calls to mind Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski’s slow-but-steady strategy of building relationships with city officials over open data — playing by the rules, so to speak, rather than causing a ruckus. We’ve seen that strategy work with the city’s other major open data win (property data) this year.

We’ve reached out to the city for comment.

(For what it’s worth, we’re having a little trouble making sense of the data visualizations the city offers for the data.)

The timing is curious, for sure. This seems like a major victory for the Nutter administration — for Wisniewski and his team, as well as Tolson — why bury the story right before New Year’s? Perhaps the administration wanted to get the news out before Nutter leaves office so it could be deemed a Nutter win. (Which makes you wonder what that says for the open data team under the Kenney administration. Kenney has said he would retain the Chief Data Officer role but hasn’t made any announcements about further plans yet.) Or maybe we’re reading too much into it and it was a press office oversight.

Whatever the case may be, we’re excited to see what’s next for this data. Startups like real estate data company Brixsy could use it. The civic hackers at Code for Philly could build apps with it. Data journalists could do all types of investigations.

Have at it.

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