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Report to CANA/NRC
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
After much consideration, the Task Force has come to the conclusion that the
organization of code enforcement in the City of
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
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
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.
The City of
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,