by Eileen Markey

Imagine being able to pinpoint the block nearby with the most housing code violations, see which bank holds the most mortgages in the neighborhood, or determine which landlord has the best record with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development – all in one place. Those searches and others will be possible when a Bronx affordable housing organization finishes its exhaustive database of the borough’s rental properties later this month.

“It’s been time-consuming to put this all together, but by doing so you can really paint a better picture of housing in the area,” said Eric Fergen, an outreach coordinator with the University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP) who has spent the better part of two years collecting the information. “With our mapping capabilities we would like to be able to see or show where the most emergency repairs are being made, where the most serious violations are occurring. We can see where owners aren’t paying their taxes, where the major lenders are operating.”

With its Building Indicator Project, UNHP — a 20 year-old organization founded by Fordham University and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition when the Bronx was just beginning to dig out of financial crisis — has compiled a most modern organizing and research tool. It includes data on the 7,100 Bronx buildings with at least six rental units. By correlating information on liens, fines, unpaid taxes, code violations and mandated emergency repairs, the database uses a point system to identify properties in financial or physical distress, Fergen said.

The goal is to give community groups the ammunition they need to demand quality housing and to show banks that hold the mortgages how their investment is — or isn’t — being managed. The tool already has been successful — the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition used UNHP data in campaigns this year. And when UNHP brought the decayed condition of some buildings to the attention of a major bank that held the mortgages, the bank inspected the buildings and demanded the landlord make repairs, Fergen said proudly.

UNHP Deputy Director Greg Lobo Jost estimates the project cost $50,000 over three years. Funding came from the Community Preservation Corporation and Citibank, which funds summer internships. UNHP has held initial talks with community groups in Brooklyn and Manhattan about expanding the database to neighborhoods in those boroughs.

“This could, one day, especially if it becomes citywide, become a resource online or in some public place for use by community groups and for working with lenders to ensure quality housing,” Fergen said. For now it will be stored on the UNHP server, but is available for public use.