2017 Semifinalist
City of Mobile, AL
January 1, 2017

The City of Mobile is the first city in America to develop a comprehensive, digitally-mapped inventory of every blighted residential structure. To conduct the city-wide survey, Mobile, led by the city’s Bloomberg Philanthropy funded Innovation team, utilized Instagram to geo-locate blighted properties while documenting the impact to residents of more than $83 million in lost market value. Capitalizing on the capabilities of Instagram, the City created a brand new mobile app that allows rapid cataloging and city-wide assessment. With new data on the exact scope of the problem, the City can ensure the right resources are being deployed at the right time to the right property. The data collected through this effort revealed that blighted properties comprise two percent of Mobile's housing stock and 25 percent (13,188) of Mobile's homes are within 150 feet of blight. Each of those homes sees an average negative $6,300 to their value, an $83 million loss city wide. Historically, the Nuisance Abatement Ordinance has fallen short of producing dramatically better outcomes for neighborhoods in Mobile. Tougher penalties for owners of unsecured structures, which can become a haven for criminal activity and bring down surrounding property values, will remove incentives to abandonment and neglect. If the owner has taken no action after a violation, the City will take immediate steps to remedy the problem with the costs being borne by properties owners, and not the taxpayers. With stronger enforcement tools in place, the City will have the ability to free 2,600 homes from the effects of blight restoring more than $10 million in real estate equity to local homeowners. Beyond gathering the raw data, Mobile has worked to understand why blight occurs and how it became so pervasive. Over the next two years, the city will raise the profile of blight as an issue and look to businesses, nonprofits and community groups to invest in neighborhoods and help residents keep their properties updated. The Instagram initiative only helped define the blight problem, but it is not often a city process can be completely changed at almost no expense. The initiative has been hugely successful from that standpoint.