Frequently Asked Questions

How did we get your number?

We buy cell phone numbers to send our information to. A company called ExactData sells phone numbers of people who at some point signed up for something and allowed their number to be sold. It is always possible for people to get one of our texts to opt-out. Always.

Why is this a free service?

We are a journalism project funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and that is how we pay our bills. We may start charging a small amount for projects like this in the future, but this rental housing information is free. If you want to support Outlier you can contribute here.

How do we know so much about these addresses?

Outlier uses public data sets and then requests additional data from city agencies. We even purchase data to discover the following things about addresses in Detroit: addresses, tax information, whether or not the property is a registered rental, when it was last inspected, and the risk of water shut off. Information on individual water accounts is not available to journalists because of privacy concerns and that is why we only have data based on zip code. Bank foreclosure data is simply too expensive for Outlier to purchase and is why we provide readers with a link where they can find that information instead.

How does the information get to Outlier readers?

All of the information we request goes into a database. When an Outlier reader enters an address into the system, all the information associated with that address gets texted back.

Our information is only as good as the sources we use, and we know some of the city info seems to be out of date for particular addresses. If you have better information send it our way and we’ll update the database.

If you want even more details about our data sources and methods, keep reading.

 Data sources

Address: Detroit Parcel Points Ownership Database accessed through Detroit Open data portal.

Inspection: City of Detroit Department of Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental data accessed through FOIA request.

Owner: Detroit Parcel Points Ownership Database accessed through Detroit Open Data Portal.

Rental Registration: City of Detroit Department of Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental data accessed through FOIA request.

Tax Due: Wayne County Treasurer accessed through Loveland Technologies web scraper.

Tax Status: Wayne County Treasurer accessed through Loveland Technologies web scraper.

Zip Code: Detroit Parcel Points Ownership Database accessed through Detroit Open Data Portal.

Water delinquency: City of Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage accessed through FOIA request.

Methods notes

  1. Data will be updated every few months. Each city agency updates its data on a different schedule.
  2. Rental registration and inspection data does not include public housing units.
  3. Data about whether or not a rental was registered appeared in the original data source as a date the property was registered. All dates were from 2015 or 2016. Any address that had a registration date associated is therefore a “licensed rental.”
  4. The Detroit Open Data Portal listed 664 addresses as having a zip code of 48200, a zip code that does not in fact exist. Those addresses were looked up in Google Maps and the zip code listed there replaced the 48200 zip for all 664 addresses.
  5. Housing paid for with the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program does not have a pass/fail inspection system.
  6. The Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage denied a FOIA request for specific address level information of water bill delinquency or water bill payment plans. The department did however provide partially redacted address information and the zip code. Outlier then requested a list of all the water customers in Detroit and the zip codes associated with those customers. Outlier compared the total count of all water customers in a particular zip code and the count of all delinquent or payment plan customers within that zip code to get the percentage of addresses within each zip code at risk of shut off.

Author: sarahalvarez

Journalist and founder of Outlier Media.

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