CHALLENGE: Amplifying Our Constituents’ Voices

We want to primarily reduce administrative burden to make it easier for us to implement and manage our development projects and IT infrastructure.

Goals and Outcomes

There are a variety of process improvements that could be made with our current technology stack. We want to primarily reduce administrative burden to make it easier for us to implement and manage our development projects and IT infrastructure. The two projects we would like to focus on would be the “Get Help” form on the OPA website and the Landlord Watchlist. 


To be successful, a solution will:

  • Amplify our constituents’ voices through the OPA’s projects

  • Comply with NYC government regulations and procedures

  • Integrate with our current tech stack

  • Be conscious of our limited budget and resources

If a solution pertains to the Landlord Watchlist, it needs to also be aware of the end-of-year timeline, as the Watchlist launches in mid-December every year.

New York City, Office of the Public Advocate

The Public Advocate is a non-voting member of the New York City Council with the right to introduce and co-sponsor legislation. The Public Advocate also serves as an ombudsman for city government, providing oversight for city agencies, investigating citizens' complaints about city services and making proposals to address perceived shortcomings or failures of those services. These duties, worded somewhat ambiguously, are laid out in Section 24 of the City Charter. Along with the Mayor and the Comptroller, the Public Advocate is one of three municipal offices elected by all the city's voters. In the event of a vacancy or incapacity of the mayor, the Public Advocate is first in line to become Mayor.

Challenge Background

One of the goals of our office is to hear our constituents’ complaints with government services and connect them with services and information that are useful to them. The “Get Help” form on the Public Advocate website that is intended for constituents to request help when dealing with complaints and inquiries related to NYC government services. We want to add functionality to this form to make both more accessible to our constituents and have the data easier to analyze and use on our end.


The form itself is a custom form found at https://pubadvocate.nyc.gov/intake/, which sends an email to our gethelp@pubadvocate.nyc.gov account.


We also want our constituents’ experiences to inform our projects and larger goals such as the Landlord Watchlist. The Landlord Watchlist is an annual list of the top 100 worst individual landlords in New York City compiled by the Office of the Public Advocate. We use data from HPD (Housing Preservation and Data) and the list is available online at https://landlordwatchlist.com. We want experience, knowledge, and advice on how to use technology to make our Landlord Watchlist even more impactful and informed by our constituents. One example would be a process for submitting images to add to the story of the Landlord Watchlist. Auto-tagging these images using machine learning techniques with identified violations would be an example of amplifying our constituents’ voices.


One of the “sticking points” with the Landlord Watchlist is addressing landlord “appeals,” which is a bit of a misnomer since we have a very strict definition of when and what we remove from our list. Landlords often end up sending us appeals via email that need to be manually cataloged and recorded, which takes a lot of time and effort. Automating this process would free up a lot of time to further develop the Landlord Watchlist.


The resources we currently use for the Landlord Watchlist are MySQL and Flask hosted on Ubuntu on AWS on the backend, and React and Bootstrap on the frontend.


Overall, these are just two examples. We also want to identify the “low-hanging fruit” beyond the Landlord Watchlist or the Get Help form that we could accomplish with our limited resources.

If you are interested in responding to this challenge statement to discuss how your solution could be the right fit for a pilot, please reach out to Sarah Nicoll at sarah@civstart.org. CivStart is a nonprofit partner assisting the government in their selection and pilot process.