Residents in Detroit get trained to use smartphone app, help update blighted property database

One of the latest weapons helping Detroit in its long battle with blight and vacant houses isn't a super-powered bulldozer or millions of dollars in funding for demolitions.

It's a simple mobile app called "blexting" — short for blight texting — that can be downloaded free for Android devices and used to relay information and photos to a massive database on all land in the 139-square-mile city.

The Detroit Land Bank Authority, a software company, data collecting group and members of a team that spent the winter months mapping the city's 380,000 real estate parcels gave a short demonstration Tuesday for a few dozen people on how to record blight in their neighborhoods.

The data will be used by the city as it plans to demolish or rehabilitate vacant houses and buildings. About 73,000 of the city's 85,000 blighted parcels are residential structures.

"We actually were going to do our own surveying and then we heard about this," said Wenonah Handschu, who is part of a community group in northwest Detroit. She will help coordinate training using the app for residents in that neighborhood.

"I'm just tired of seeing the city in the shape that it's in," said Handschu, 43.

In using the app, people answer a series of questions on the condition of the building they are "blexting" about, including whether the structure has any fire damage, is being lived in or is the site of illegal dumping. They also are asked to note the conditions of vacant lots for the mapping survey.

More training sessions will be held in the coming weeks in Detroit neighborhoods.

"That's our goal, to want to encourage people to participate in the survey at the community level and organizational level as well," said Monique Tate, a member of the mapping project team. "We want this source to be the key resource for the entire city of Detroit for information on our homes and lots."

Several other cities, including Chicago and New Orleans, have shown some interest in the app based on how it's been used in Detroit, said Lauren Hood, community engagement manager for Detroit-based Loveland Technologies. A member of that company developed the "blexting" app.