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Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations/Neighborhood Resource Council Code Enforcement Task Force

 To get a copy in Word format, go here.

Report to CANA/NRC

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

April 2006

 

The work of the Task Force begins with the understanding by the membership and officers of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations (CANA) and the Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC) that there is a widespread perception that code enforcement in the City of Albany has been applied in an ineffective manner. All parties involved, including the elected leadership of the City of Albany, agree that fair and effective code enforcement lies at the heart of the social and economic health of our neighborhoods, and thus of the City itself.

 

This Task Force has set itself the job of first, identifying what have been these problems of effective code enforcement, and second, to point the way toward practical solutions to these problems. We have worked completely in the spirit of cooperation with the City and the agencies involved with code enforcement, as partners intent on finding solutions.

 

It must be emphasized that the City government and the agencies involved with code enforcement have cooperated with the Task Force to the best of their abilities. In particular, Nick DiLello, who is the Director of the Division of Building & Codes, has been outstanding in his cooperation, meeting monthly with the Task Force for the past year and providing all available information on request. While at times these meetings devolved into heated discussion, there was maintained at all times a cordial respect by all persons present that greatly aided the Task Force in accomplishing its goals.

 

The Task Force found several strengths with the current system. First, that inspections are scheduled, and not merely complaint-driven or triggered by vacancies of rental units. Second, that all rental units in all buildings are subject to periodic inspections, with no exceptions. While there are certainly gaps in execution of inspections, there is a strong commitment by the City to meet the goal of regular universal inspections. Members of the Task Force believe that these gaps in enforcement can be closed.

 

 

Problems Identified

 

The problems with code enforcement that we identified can fall into two categories, (1) the application of enforcement in the field, and (2) the management and organization of code enforcement by the City.

 

Enforcement As stated in the general report, there is a strong public perception that code enforcement is haphazard and inadequate. Certain neighborhoods, and indeed, certain buildings on a block are singled out for rigorous enforcement, while other neighborhoods and specific buildings on the same block are allowed to accumulate code violations. Often, after enough accumulation of violations, these buildings, and even entire neighborhoods, decay to the point of abandonment.

 

The evidence for this assertion comes partly from a list of “problem buildings” that the committee followed with singular concern over the past year. Mr. DiLello provided excellent information on the history and present state of these buildings, and gave us regular updates as to his progress in working to resolve the problems with these specific buildings. However, he could not adequately explain why these buildings were allowed to disintegrate to such a state in the first place.

 

In addition, several members of the Task Force have wide experience with the progressive disintegration of buildings and neighborhoods in Albany, and could provide a good deal of anecdotal evidence of this problem. Indeed, the problem is so widespread and universally acknowledged that we did not feel it necessary to collect evidence from City residents. Suffice to say that the incomplete Registry of Vacant Buildings stands as statistical evidence of the ineffectiveness of code enforcement in the recent past.

 

It is not the purpose or intention of the Task Force to assign blame for this problem, whether it is because of lack of follow-up, disorganization, favoritism or political targeting. Our purpose is to discover solutions so that code enforcement can be applied fairly and consistently now and in the future. But it should be said that as far as we can determine, the City employees who are responsible for code enforcement maintain high personal standards and ethics.

 

Organization After much consideration, the Task Force has come to the conclusion that the organization of code enforcement in the City of Albany is outdated and inadequate. We believe that this is the prime cause of inconsistent enforcement. While this is a difficult and complex problem, we maintain that with sufficient will by the City this problem can and must be solved.

 

It is no exaggeration to say that the agencies involved in code enforcement, like most City departments, are stuck in the management style of the 19th Century. By this we mean that there is an over-reliance on personal control by department heads, rather than a reliance on the vigorous bureaucratic standards characteristic of the 20th Century. This lends to long term departmental inconsistency and confusion that can only be overcome for short periods of time.

 

For example, Nick DiLello has brought a good deal of vigor to the Division of Buildings and Codes. But what happens if he leaves his post abruptly, as has happened to his Division in the recent past? We doubt that his level of attention to the problems of code enforcement could be maintained by an interim department head. We would all be thrown back to the beginning, and it would take another vigorous department head to rebuild high standards of code enforcement.

 

There was a great deal of back and forth over this issue between the Task Force and Mr. DiLello. Understandably, Mr. DiLello did not look kindly upon criticism of the structure of his division, and several times insisted that we stick to working exclusively with him. Basically, he wanted the Task Force to report specific code violations that we have observed and allow him to personally take care of them.

 

The Task Force strongly believes that the problems of code enforcement in the City of Albany are greater than the vigor or integrity of any specific agency head. There cannot be a solution to the problem of inconsistent enforcement unless the standards and procedures are independent of the department heads.

 

In addition, the Task Force has become aware that the latest technology is not being utilized for effective enforcement and cost control, particularly computer databases and the internet. We have repeatedly heard from Mr. DiLello, Assistant Fire Chief Forezzi, and from Mayor Jennings himself that effective code enforcement cannot be accomplished by the City government alone, that the residents of the City need to help.

 

Yet it is evident that there is a gulf between the City government and the residents, a gulf that is within the power of the City government to bridge. Part of the problem is ineffective communication, part of the problem is confusion on the part of the residents. Effective use of current technology could go a long way to solving this problem, and of including the residents in the process of effective code enforcement.

 

In Conclusion

 

The City of Albany is in the midst of a host of redevelopment projects that have the potential to transform the City. The weak part of these plans is code enforcement. What good is rehabilitation and development if the results of these projects are allowed to immediately lapse into decay? It is vital that the City use all enforcement powers available to prevent disintegration of our buildings and our neighborhoods from happening again.

 

By use of currently available technology, code enforcement can be used to collect and classify data so that new strategies for neighborhood improvement can be developed. Also, by using technology to facilitate citizen participation, code enforcement can become an ongoing community process, and not merely the responsibility of several overburdened City agencies.

 

The committee has made a number of specific recommendations, none of which by themselves will solve the endemic problems with organization that result in inconsistent code enforcement. What is needed above all is a single minded will by the City government to bring the organization of code enforcement into the 21st Century.

 

We are calling for a reorganization of management and procedures that will allow the elimination of inconsistencies in code enforcement, and provide for equal application of code enforcement across the entire City. The report does not provide final answers; rather it is a starting point for this essential restructuring. Hopefully, the Task Force, CANA , the NRC and the City of Albany can continue to work together to bring about these necessary changes in an effective and painless mann