2023 APDU Annual Conference Recap: Heirs’ Property Data


APDU 2023 was full of fantastic information, excellent networking, and very informative talks. One session that stood out and sparked a lively conversation among other public data professionals was presented by Natasha Moodie and Dr. Keith Wiley of the Housing Assistance Council entitled, “The Use of Public and Private Data to Address Heirs’ Property”. This demonstrated how distrust of the legal system, financial deserts, and inaccessible local level housing data can create greater wealth inequality; conversely, attendees learned that consistent property assessment data, public data aggregation to the state and local level, and the use of public housing data to track title issues can help create a more prosperous and equitable future.

Specifically, Moodie and Wiley’s session discussed heirs’ property. In a nutshell, when property is transferred from one generation to the next without estate planning or a clear will with a line of ownership, it can become unclear who owns the property. Thus, descendants can lose control of property which is rightfully theirs. When this happens, well-funded private companies can (and often do) seize ownership of properties that might belong to someone else.

Since families frequently maintain generational wealth through property ownership, unclear public real estate data can exacerbate the wealth gap. Additionally, property left to multiple descendants without an estate plan makes tracking descendants even more difficult. This problem is especially pronounced in rural and minority areas.

One reason it is so difficult to track down descendants of property owners is because there is no universal data standard for state, local, or federal users to document property assessments. For example, Washington, DC might use a paper tracking system, whereas Arlington, VA – which is just on the other side of the Potomac River from DC – might use a computer-based system. Without consistent data formats, it can be very challenging to find descendants who are entitled to real estate that is rightfully theirs.

Creating a clean, consistent nationwide system to track family property ownership is one-way policymakers can remove confusion, give families ownership of property they deserve, and ultimately create a more level playing field.


To view the Housing Assistance Council’s Rural Data Portal, an “on-line resource that provides essential information on the social, economic, and housing characteristics of communities in the United States,” click here!