Return to Sender: Vacancy Data Updated on PolicyMap

Whether you are a local government agency seeking to understand the regional housing market or a Community Development Financial Institution looking to revitalize commercial strips in Ohio, tracking vacancy trends is a need shared across all sectors. Given its far-reaching utility, vacancy has historically been one of our most sought-after datasets on PolicyMap. We are excited to announce that we have again enhanced the vacancy data offered on PolicyMap, and it is now available through Q4 of 2015.
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More Precise Broadband Availability Data

BlogPost_20160127_BroadbandBlocks3A few months ago, we introduced a shiny new dataset onto PolicyMap, broadband internet access data from the National Broadband Map. It introduced a lot cool indicators, like availability of different technologies (DSL, cable, fiber, wireless), highest available speed, and number of competitors in the local market.

We’ve now made a major improvement to this data that should make it significantly more useful than before.

When we originally released it, the data was summarized at the block group level, so if a block group had broadband availability anywhere inside, we showed it as a block group that has availability (and this was explained in our methodology). Census block groups are the smallest geography type we generally show data for, and are usually small enough to only have populations of 600 to 3,000 people. Usually, this is great for the kinds of data we show. Unfortunately, broadband access is unique, because there are often small pockets within block groups that don’t have access. More importantly, block groups in rural areas can be very big. And it’s in these rural areas that broadband availability can be most spotty.

So, after a little work here, we’re now able to show broadband availability data at the census block level. Blocks are even smaller than block groups; in cities they’re something like a city block, in rural areas, they’re generally bounded by roads and land features (streams, hills, etc.). Blocks are much smaller than block groups, and will provide much more precise detail when it comes to broadband availability.

See the difference it makes:

Availability of fiber optic internet

Availability of fiber optic internet

And particularly in rural areas:

Number of wired internet providers

Number of wired internet providers

Why didn’t we do this before? This is the first time PolicyMap has ever shown census block level data. Because the blocks are so small, the boundary data is ten times bigger than it is for block groups, our previous smallest boundary. It required some work to make sure that when you look up data on internet access, it doesn’t crash and take PolicyMap off of the internet.

Because blocks are so small and there are so many of them, you have to zoom in a good bit to see the data. You can see availability in a region around a city, but not for the whole country.

Enjoy this new data, and let us know what you think!

Image source: Wikimedia
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Mapping Cultural Assets with the Museum Universe Data File

MET - The Great Hall - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA - 2012" by WestportWiki - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by WestportWiki.

It may surprise you to hear that a single national list of museums is a very new concept. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is a federal agency that supports museums through grants and research, but as organizations museums aren’t officially tracked or regulated by IMLS in any way. Many museums are funded entirely from private sources, meaning they are totally off the radar of the federal government. To create the Museum Universe Data File in 2014, IMLS combined IRS 990 forms for certain nonprofit tax code categories with multiple third-party and proprietary sources including Foundation Center and Factual, an aggregator of crowd-sourced data. In other words, IMLS combined readily available public and private data to create a “universe” of their constituents — and to top that off, has shared it as an open dataset. Welcome to the future!

Large museums tend to be recognizable regional landmarks, many of them located in core urban areas. The following map shows that most large museums (having income of at least $10 million) are found in high-population counties:

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The Reinvestment Fund Launches Invest Health Initiative


Here at PolicyMap we are proud to announce The Reinvestment Fund’s, new initiative: Invest Health. A partnership of The Reinvestment Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Invest Health seeks to fundamentally change the way cities improve opportunities for their citizens to live healthy lives.

Leadership teams representing up to 50 mid-sized cities (cities with populations between 50,000 and 400,000) will be chosen to collaborate on ways to align people, strategies and capital to improve the factors that drive health in low-income neighborhoods—from a scarcity of quality jobs, affordable housing and nutritious food, to high crime rates and unhealthy environmental conditions. Selected teams will receive a grant award of up to $60,000 toward participation in the initiative.

Cities interested in participating in Invest Health can now submit a Letter of Intent online at  Letters of Intent are due by January 29, 2016. More information about the initiative, including the call for proposals, FAQ and a list of eligible cities is available at

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Tax Returns: A Hidden Gold Mine of Data

I get pretty excited about tax return data. You may recall my really tactful idea earlier this year of asking a blind date for their 1040. It hasn’t really picked up social acceptance yet, but I’m still hopeful, because they can tell you so much about a person. How much do they earn? What kind of home do they own? Do they have children? Are they generous with charitable contributions? It’s enough to fill a Jane Austen novel. (If you’re new to this IRS data, I suggest a read of the earlier blog post.)

So, naturally, I’m excited that we now have an additional year of tax data from the IRS, for 2013. And even more excited to report some new goodies that will make all the data even more useful.

The first thing we have is 11 new groups of indicators. Each group has data on the number of returns with the credit/deduction/tax/etc., percent of all returns with it, total amount of it in the area (for example, total amount of charitable contributions in a zip code), and average amount of the thing in the area.

Here are the new topics:

  • Additional Medicare Tax (part of the Affordable Healthcare Act)
  • Net Investments Tax (also part of the ACA)
  • Self-employment tax
  • Total income
  • IRA payments
  • Self-employment health insurance deductions
  • Student loan interest deductions
  • Tuition and fees deductions
  • Non-refundable education credits (such as the lifetime learning credit and the American Opportunity Credit)
  • Refundable education credits (an additional portion of the American Opportunity Credit)
  • Retirement savings contribution credits

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Use PolicyMap for New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) Applications

New Markets Tax Credit applications are due December 16th, 2015. PolicyMap now provides the most current and comprehensive NMTC eligibility data available from the CDFI Fund and other sources such as the Small Business Administration and the Delta Regional Authority. Community development organizations can find the data for the NMTC application at the top of our Federal Guidelines tab on the Maps page.  We’ve included this year’s data on the Island Areas of the United States, as well.

If you’ve had success using PolicyMap to apply for New Markets Tax Credits, send us your stories!  Let us know about your project, include a picture, and we’ll feature the best stories right here on our blog.

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Ancestry Data: Neat, But Not on PolicyMap

With the ACS 5-year data release coming up in December, we’ve been having discussions about what data we might want to add from the ACS on to PolicyMap. Some good ideas have been tossed around, like data on veterans, people with disabilities, children in poverty, and others. (Stay tuned to see what we add.) But one whole category of data caught my attention: Ethnic origin and ancestry.

Data on ancestry can be fascinating. A quick peek at the Wikipedia page for “Race and ethnicity in the United States” shows a map of the predominant ethnic background in each county:

From Wikipedia

Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County“. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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Mapchats – Land Banks: How Data Transforms Vacancy into Value

Missed the Land Banks webinar? Re-watch and learn more about how important they are to revitalizing communities.

Robert Linn is a Senior GIS/Data Manager at Detroit Land Bank Authority. He manages an inventory of 80,000 parcels while overseeing the development of land use policy and the use of data streams to create more granular and proactive responses to the city’s vacant properties.

Download Robert Linn Powerpoint

Michael Schramm is the Director of Information Technology and Research at Cuyahoga County Land Revitalization Corp. He is recognized as a national expert in property data systems. Mr. Schramm developed the land bank property tracking systems called the Property Profile System at the Cuyahoga Lank Bank. This tool helps the corporation use data to make strategic acquisition decisions as well as track property statuses from acquisition to demolition to disposition. The system is now being licensed to other land banks for their property tracking needs.

Download Michael Shramm Powerpoint
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Visit PolicyMap at APLU in Indianapolis!

annual-meeting-logo-240x180If you are attending APLU this year, we hope you’ll stop by the exhibits to find out why a growing number of universities are subscribing to PolicyMap for university administration, faculty and staff research, and student projects. Please visit us at the APLU exhibits – Booth #19 to see a live demonstration of PolicyMap.

Read more about PolicyMap university access and see a list of current university subscribers here. Visit us at the APLU exhibits to find out more and arrange for a free university-wide trial of PolicyMap.

Use PolicyMap for University Administration:

  • Government Relations: Demonstrate your university’s economic impact within congressional and state representative districts.
  • Outreach, Engagement and Community Affairs: Identify areas in the greatest need for health, food access and educational outreach efforts. Load your own project data to interactively present your community engagement activities to the public.
  • Economic Development: Understand the traits of your area’s workforce and how it is changing over time.
  • Grants and Development: Use PolicyMap for more competitive grant applications.

Use PolicyMap for faculty research and in the classroom in these areas:

  • • social sciences • urban studies and planning • community and economic development • public administration and policy • public health, epidemiology and nursing • political science • education • environmental studies • business • economics • statistics • geography • real estate and housing analysis

Enjoy the Conference!

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PolicyMap Featured in Lincoln Institute Publication

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 7.07.42 PM

Land Lines, a publication of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, profiled PolicyMap and how it’s being used across the country to advance data-driven decision making. Learn how PolicyMap streamlines GIS for cities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and San Antonio.

Charting Progress: PolicyMap Democratizes Data Analysis

Data-driven decision making is easier than ever with this mostly free, intuitive online mapping tool. Featuring expert statistics on 37,000 indicators— from public education and house prices to crime rates—the web’s largest geographic database helps policy makers avoid getting stuck on the wrong side of the widening digital divide.

Read the full story

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