NEIGHBORHOOD STUDY INDICATORS
The vacant property data used in the report's calculations was collected by Isles during the summer of 2014. The calculation that we used was the percentage of vacant Class 2 (one to four family) structures out of all Class 2 structures. Vacancy is a critical factor in looking at the health of a
neighborhood. Vacancy rates above a range of 5% to 8% reflect a weakness in the area’s housing market, and the higherthe vacancy rate, the weaker the market conditions in the area.
The homeownership rate is an important indicator of neighborhood stability. Not only is homeownership correlated with longer tenure, but it is also strongly associated with positive neighborhood features, including greater investment in one’s property, greater neighborhood engagement, and stronger social capital. We used the Mod IV data file (published annually by the City tax assessor and available here), which included information on all properties as ofthe end of 2013, including the address of the property, and the name and address of the owner of record towhich property tax bills are sent. Having screened out all but Class 2 properties, our initial step was to exclude all properties where the address of the property and the address of the owner were not the same. We then excluded properties where the owner name was clearly not an individual or couple; for example, “235 ChestnutStreet LLC” or “Flip-My-House, Inc.” The remaining properties were considered owner-occupied.
The proportion of home purchases by investors rather than owner-occupant buyers has a significant bearing on eighborhood stability. Investors' fundamental criterion is whether the house represents an opportunity to make money, while homebuyers are planning to make both a personal and financial investment in the house and surrounding neighborhood. And when house prices are low, there is a significant risk that the market will draw ‘milkers,’ investors interested in pure short-term cash flow profits, who then abandon the property. The mix of investor and owner-occupant buyers was determined using deed record data, which is compiled and published by the County approximately once every month or two. (The deed records can also be accessed here -- set "Database" to "Deed/Sr1A".)
Median sales price
The price for which houses sell in a neighborhood or city is probably the single most direct measure of market performance – the higher the price for a comparable house, the stronger the market, and the more people in the market who value the neighborhood. Since many small neighborhoods had no or few home sales at all, small transactions can skew the data (you can see this in the charts in the dashboard). We thus came up with a synthetic measurement for median sales price -- specifically, we gave each neighborhood a score from 1 to 5 for each year from 2011 to 2013, and then averaged the three scores.
Mortgage foreclosures are a major factor destabilizing neighborhoods. In this analysis we used foreclosure filings, since they identify when mortgage payments became delinquent -- because of New Jersey’s extremely slow foreclosure process, the actual foreclosure may not take place for many years after the owner becomes delinquent and the foreclosure is filed. The data used in the report was purchased from Realty Trac, a national firm that monitors foreclosure activity. The data was cleaned for duplicates, but kept situations where a property was foreclosed, taken back by the lender, sold to a new owner, and subsequently went into foreclosure again. The property database contains data on foreclosure filings from 2004 through 2014. The dashboard and report show foreclosure filings on Class 2 properties as a percentage of all Class 2 properties in the neighborhood or subarea. Note: Due to restrictions in our contract with RealtyTrac, we cannot publish the raw data.
Property owners have certain obligations, including the responsibility to pay property taxes to the city; and, if they have taken out a mortgage, to make
mortgage payments. Whether or not they do so is a function of two factors – their ability to do so, and their desire to do so. The latter reflects how they feel about the value of holding onto the property and their confidence in the neighborhood. The hardship factor usually weighs greater with mortgages (they're larger amounts of money, and banks are usually quicker in going after you than the City government). The confidence factor weighs greater with property taxes. Thus, the percentage of owners paying their property taxes offers a rough measure of property owners’ assessment of their neighborhood and its future prospects. To measure this indicator, we use the percentage of properties on which tax sale certificates or tax liens are currently outstanding, including tax liens created between 2006 and 2014. This includes all properties for which taxes were unpaid long enough for the property to end up in a tax sale, and which have not been redeemed or foreclosed subsequent to the sale.
Tax sale certificate purchases
When the city puts tax delinquent properties up for tax sale, one of two things happens to each property: either the tax sale certificate is bought by an investor, who pays the city the outstanding taxes; or, if no investor offers the minimum bid on the property, it is ‘struck off ’ and becomes the property of the city. Thus, the percentage of properties that are struck off to the city because no investors bid on them is a good reflection of how the investor market sees theneighborhood -- this is the parallel to the tax delinquency indicator, which reflects how property owners see theirneighborhood. As with that indicator, this measure uses all tax liens outstanding since 2006 as of 2014.
Crime in general, and violent crime in particular, are important – perhaps the most important – factors in how people, both within and outside an area, assess a neighborhood. Both the actual crime level as well as the fear of crime exert a powerful infl uence on whether people choose to buy a home in a particular area; or if they live in that area, choose to stay if they have the economic means to move elsewhere. The Trenton Police Department provided spreadsheets of reported crime incidents by address, which were geo-coded and allocated by neighborhood and subarea.
The measure that we used was violent crime,as defined by the FBI. We chose this measure since (1) research suggests that violent crime affects people’s perceptions of an area more than property crime, and (2) it enabled usto draw comparisons between crime rates in Trenton and national averages. To control for possible random upward or downward ‘blips’ from one year to the next in small areas, we used the sum of all violent crime incidents reported from 2011 to 2013 (a period during which the overall violent crimerate did not change signifi antly in the city) to construct the measure.