Hidden Value in Abandoned Buildings

When is a dilapidated building really a gold mine? When its value as possible affordable housing is not readily apparent. My platform reveals this hidden value.


Due to a death in my immediate family, I suspended this campaign for several months. I have now resumed the campaign, and have adjusted the delivery dates for all perks accordingly.  Your understanding and support would be greatly appreciated.
Hidden Value in Abandoned Buildings

I began developing the pilot project version of the Hidden Value in Abandoned Buildings (HViAB) platform with  Dan Fehrenbach, a programmer with CNT Energy -- a division of the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. It's a map based browser tool (that also works on iPads) that shows available amenities and resources such as transit stations, schools, grocery stores and banks located within a half mile radius of an abandoned or vacant property.

A very rudimentary version of the tool won runner up at the Urban Sustainability Hackathon sponsored by CNT in October 2012.  Further efforts will be devoted to developing a more complete and robust database for Bronzeville.  I plan to accomplish this goal through my own research, along with seeking the cooperation of organizations and agencies already engaged in housing related issues, as well as gaining the cooperation of stakeholders in the neighborhoods where vacant and abandoned properties are located.

The funds that I am seeking for this particular campaign would allow me to devote half of my working hours to fleshing out the existing platform  with more robust content. The fully developed demonstration platform will focus on the Bronzeville area, located on the near South Side of Chicago. 

Why Bronzeville?

Bronzeville is a historically and culturally significant area of Chicago. Many African Americans settled in Bronzeville during the Great Migration that brought many black sharecroppers from the South to the North. Many prominent African American figures either lived there or live there presently.  In many ways, the area is an jewel waiting to be polished.  As such, Bronzeville is an ideal test area for the HViAB tool, because it has excellent "bones."


  • An abundance of vacant and abandoned structures
  • Location close to the lakefront and downtown
  • Excellent public transportation options
  • A multitude of cultural and other desirable amenities
  • Active community involvement

Who I Am

I am a professional writer and researcher who holds advanced degrees in sociology and law from Northwestern University. I am also a longtime Chicago area resident with extensive knowledge of Chicago's housing related issues. For instance, from 2004 to 2007, I analyzed extensive public housing demographic data concerning the Chicago Housing Authority Plan for Transformation, and contributed to writing annual reports submitted to the CHA.

I have been involved with sustainability in general and affordable housing in particular since 2006, when I attended World Urban Forum 3 in Vancouver, Canada. I was a speaker at the Chicago Green Festival in 2009, 2011 and 2012. In 2007, I launched the group Sustainable Urban Development, which now boasts more than 5000 members on LinkedIn. I am also a guest blogger for Sustainable Cities Collective, and recently launched my own blog, Sustainable Urban Future.

HViAB and Legally Occupy

My work on developing this platform would focus on developing a sense of what amenities and resources are  available, what gaps remain, and how to bridge the gaps in successfully developing available vacant and abandoned properties. The HViAB platform is one of the initial phases of forming an initiative I have named Legally Occupy, which will ultimately serve as a clearinghouse to match resources, abandoned and vacant properties, and individuals and households seeking affordable housing.  While the initial focus is here in Chicago, the ultimate (admittedly long term) goal is to replicate the HViAB platform and the Legally Occupy model nationwide.


Funds contributed by PayPal are distributed immediately and will be put right to work in developing the fully functional demonstration HViAB tool.  Funds contributed by credit card are held until the end of the campaign (May 2013).

Specifically, funds raised toward this initial phase will:

1) Allow me to devote half-time efforts for a minimum of 30 days toward developing the HViAB platform.  During that time I will promote continued outreach efforts with relevant community stakeholders, along with Internet and library research devoted to developing the HViAB tool for vacant and abandoned buildings in Bronzeville.

2) Finance production of the t-shirt and e-book to be rewarded to donors

3) Cover Indiegogo processing fees

Donations in excess of the goal will finance:

1) Purchase of ArcGIS provided training in mapping to compliment the HViAB tool in development of affordable housing in targeted areas.

2) Purchase of ArcGIS 10 for Desktop (mobile app is free) $1500 approx for use in development of the HViAB tool and other operations related to Legally Occupy

3) Purchase of 16GB iPad2 with 3G and Wi-Fi and data plan $600 approx also for use in development of the HViAB tool.

The Impact

The reason I first proposed a presentation for the 2012 Chicago Green Festival on converting abandoned buildings into affordable housing was because I thought it was ridiculous that perfectly habitable buildings were standing empty while people were facing homelessness.  I still feel this way.  It's also all too apparent that although the economy has slowly begun to improve, affordable housing is an ongoing challenge. My ultimate hope is that Legally Occupy will not only match residents who need housing with residences converted from vacant and abandoned buildings, but that this initiative will ultimately become a resource to promote sustainable development in Chicago and across the country.

Other Ways You Can Help

Please "like" the Legally Occupy and Knowledge Empowerment pages on Facebook to help spread the word!  If you're not on Facebook, email or plain old word of mouth will do just fine!  Please also sign the SignOn petition and check out the InterOccupy Hub Page for further updates!  

Please also feel free to contact me through this campaign or at legallyoccupy AT interoccupy DOT net to share resources that you know of in and around Chicago concerning affordable housing, or to ask questions about the HViAB tool.

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