BuildingEye for the anti-eviction guy (and everyone else)

By Dan Raile , written on April 3, 2014

From The News Desk

In my piece about Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting in San Francisco, I mentioned the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, which was created entirely by volunteers from housing rights organizations and a small team of local, presumably self-hating, ‘techies’ (I kid).

The map is a novel attempt by those in the anti-eviction crowd to provide real data in the service of illuminating the scope and nature of the changes which the city of San Francisco is currently undergoing.

And while the map is a great idea for providing information to a growing base of ‘users’ who are enduring some very intimate points of pain, the project does suffer from a lack of available data.

Given San Francisco’s early and growing embrace of the Open Government trend, there does seem to be a possible solution here, and perhaps an opportunity for the pragmatic.

Last year, Mayor Ed Lee announced the Entrepreneurship in Residence program, in which the City would select a handful of startups to work hand-in-glove with civil departments in order, in Lee’s own words, to “make government more accountable, efficient and responsive.”

The program, run under the Mayor’s Office of Innovation, was put together as the pilot version of a still-developing, White House-led nationwide initiative. The idea seems to be that, by utilizing the same business practices that have made so many Silicon Valley startups into world-beating successes, the government could solve city- and state-level problems using outside talent at less expense to taxpayers and far more rapidly than if the fat-fingered Leviathan tried to handle those problems alone.

I’ll pause to let you fight back your skepticism before we proceed. Take as long as you need.

Ok, here is where the anti-eviction hack comes in. One of the startups selected by City Hall in March was BuildingEye. Have a looksie, please.

Founder and CEO Ciaran Gilsenan has been working closely with the city to create a real-time map of all currently held building permits in the city. Users can click on a pin and get linked directly to information about the project. While the project is still in an early stage and devoting itself to getting the building permit data right, Gilsenan says that “planning data is a natural progression from that and it’s on our roadmap.”

BuildingEye’s map is a vast improvement on the existing San Francisco Property Information Map in terms of user interface and experience, and when more data layers are imported it should be a great tool not only to developers and government employees who need to quickly call up permits, but also to residents who are concerned about what is happening in their neighborhood and want access to the underlying machinations of government.

“It’s a tool for civic engagement,” Gilsenan says, “and it’s all about transparency.”

What makes Gilsenan’s statements about transparency and engagement different from the usual government fare is that he’s actually built a product and brought it to the steps of City Hall, bringing that stale political jargon to life.

What does this have to do with evictions and affordable housing? Well, for now, the free version of BuildingEye allows you to see exactly what is being built in that giant hole where there used to be a furniture store. If Planning Commission data is incorporated, you’ll get a detailed view of all projects coming down the pipeline to your neighborhood, and you could get linked to information about when the meetings are.

BuildingEye has a function that allows users set an alert on a given swath of the city and get emails about new permits being pulled within it, which should help residents stay on their toes and out ahead of changes that they’d be hard-pressed to affect later in the process.

And Gilsenan says he would love the input of tenant's rights and residency organizations, to get an understanding of what they need and how BuildingEye could be improved.

“The data is there, it’s neutral,” he says.

 [image via BuildingEye]