We are finishing up our discussion of the city’s vacant properties and proposals regarding the Department of Licenses & Inspections’ need for more inspectors. Keeping up with Philadelphia’s enormous inventory of crumbling buildings has proved difficult for the existing 56 L&I employees, and Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposed budget includes funding for more. Even if the money is approved, though, the new hires will only be half as many as the City Controller’s Office recommended in its January report.
When we left off in our last post, we were talking about some of the other recommendations included in the report. An article in the South Philly Review reinforces one and manages to challenge the validity of the Controller’s report at the same time.
According to the report, it appears there is no internal database that serves as a one-stop vacant property resource for all city agencies. The recommendation is to establish such a database, bringing together the current status of properties, current and past violations, unpaid invoices and crime statistics.
Further, the Controller’s Office recommends that the city increase penalties for violations and increase the penalties for failing to remediate after a violation is recorded. Issuing citations does not seem to motivate property owners to make the property safe. There should be more serious consequences for those who do not act.
The SRP points out that the Controller’s Office based its findings on L&I records — the very records that the Controller’s Office criticizes. In Point Breeze, the SPR continues, at least one of the houses identified as one of the top 20 dangerous properties has been rehabilitated and is now for sale. Does L&I know that? And if the records are that outdated, is it a surprise that the city has trouble tracking down the owners of vacant and dangerously dilapidated properties?
The proposal to hire more inspectors is still just a proposal. The debate will continue between the mayor and the City Council, and the press and the public, and we will watch and wait to see how it shakes out.
South Philly Review, “L&I zipped on 19146: A City Controller report on privately-held vacant properties indicts the Department of Licenses & Inspections,” Bill Chenevert, Feb. 19, 2015
Office of the City Controller, “Vacant Properties Creating Neighborhood Nuisances,” January 2015