Using Open Data to drive good policy outcomes – Vancouver’s Rental Database

One of the best signs for open data is when governments are starting to grasp its potential to achieve policy objectives. Rather than just being about compliance, it is seen as a tool that can support the growth and management of a jurisdiction.

This why I was excited to see Vision Vancouver (in which I’m involved in generally, but was not involved in the development of this policy proposal) announced the other day that, if elected, it intends to create a comprehensive online registry that will track work orders and property violations in Vancouver apartments, highlighting negligent landlords and giving a new tool to empower renters.

As the press release goes on to state, the database is “Modeled after a successful on-line watchlist created by New York City’s Public Advocate, the database will allow Vancouver residents to search out landlords and identify any building or safety violations issued by the City of Vancouver to specific rental buildings.”

Much like the pieces I’ve written around restaurant inspection and product recall data, this is a great example of a data set, that when shared the right way, can empower citizens to make better choices and foster better behaviour from landlords.

My main hope is that in the implementation of this proposal, the city does the right thing and doesn’t create a searchable database on its own website, but actually creates an API that software developers and others can tap into. If they do this, someone may develop a mobile app for renters that would show you the repair record of the building you are standing in front of, or in. This could be very helpful for renters, one could even imagine an app where you SMS the postal code of a rental building and it sends you back some basic information. Also exciting to me is the possibility that a university student might look for trends in the data over time, maybe there is an analysis that my yield and insight that could help landlords mitigate against problems, and reduce the number of repairs they have to make (and so help reduce their costs).

But if Vancouver and New York actually structured the data in the same way, it might create an incentive for other cities to do the same. That might entice some of the better known services to use the data to augment their offerings as well. Imagine if PadMapper, in addition to allowing a prospective renter to search for apartments based on rent costs and number of rooms, could also search based on number of infractions?

pad-mapper-rental

That might have a salutary effect on some (but sadly not all) landlords. All an all an exciting step forward from my friends at Vision who brought open data to Canada.

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