Feb 2015-Resolution: Enforce existing laws to combat blight
Whereas: Buffalo is dealing with blight and vacancy issues that are caused by repeat offenders whose negligence has been an ongoing burden on neighborhoods.
Whereas: The city code has provisions in it that give the Commissioner of Permits & Inspections authority to correct violations at rental dwellings without referring cases to Housing Court; and whereas these provision include but are not limited to such remedies as using city workers or hiring contractors to bring houses up to code (341-9); revocation of a Certificate of Occupancy (269-7); and revocation of Rental Registration (264-10);
Whereas: The provisions stated above are not enforced by any department of the COB; and whereas inspectors routinely refer violations of Chapter 341 on Property Maintenance to Housing Court; and whereas there is presently a serious backlog in Housing Court.
Whereas: The problem of unenforced city codes was brought to the attention of the Common Council in 2002 by then Council Member Dominic Bonifacio; and whereas the findings of that memorandum still exist after 12 years.
Therefore be it resolved: That the Common Council immediately establish a Special Task Force of Codes Enforcers to handle long standing problems of blight and vacancy, specifically those properties on the Project Slumlord Blight List, which is a list of properties that have been recommended to Project Slumlord for special action by neighbors of the offending properties.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council will require this Task Force to establish a strict time line not to exceed three months for review all properties on the Project Slumlord Blight List.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council will require this Task Force to enforce the provisions of the City Code that give the COB power to revoke Certificates of Occupancy and Rental Registry certificate and shut down the rental business of the offending landlord; and that the revocation of licenses will be carried out without referring cases to Housing Court.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council will act with a sense of urgency to ensure that any new laws introduced to fight blight and vacancy be enforced promptly and effectively to protect the health and safety of the citizens of the COB.
Feb 2015-Resolution: Bring Open Data and Self-Serve citizen portals to the COB
Whereas: The COB has a blight and vacancy problem that is costly, dangerous, entrenched, and dispiriting.
Whereas: Many departments in the COB and agencies that cooperate with the COB are involved either directly or indirectly in the enforcement of property maintenance codes and quality of life issues that arise from blight and decay; and whereas these departments include but are not limited to: Department of Permits & Inspections, Housing Court, City of Buffalo Police Department, Division of Citizens Services, Corporation Counsel, Common Counsel, Department of Strategic Planning, BENLIC, COB Fire Department, Rental Registry, Department of Taxation, InRem Auction, Real Estate, NYS Unified Court System, and the Erie County Department of Health.
Whereas: The COB departments involved in addressing blight and vacancy have no demonstrable method of communicating across departments and to other agencies about problems that require cross-entity cooperation to resolve; and whereas the data recorded by these various entities exists in such isolation that it severely limits the possibility of quickly searching, compiling, and sharing information to better understand the interrelationships of problems and find solutions.
Whereas: COB departments spend an indeterminate amount of time and resources on managing blighted properties, especially those owned by off-premise landlords of multiple rental dwellings; and whereas COB departments spend an indeterminate amount of time and resources dealing with the repeat offenders.
Whereas: Neighborhood residents are united in bringing these issues before the Common Council; and whereas neighborhood residents repeatedly report problems and have no way of tracking resolution efforts; and whereas, block club and non-profit leaders have extremely limited access to , self-serve data; and whereas city employees spend valuable time answering necessarily often repeated phone calls and emails from citizens who have no access to self-serve data.
Whereas: Reliable data from all departments and agencies mentioned here is necessary to discover egregious offenders with the purpose of bringing them to account; and whereas the scope of the problems and a triage approach to solving it can only be accomplished with robust data analysis; and whereas the COB does not have such reliable data.
Whereas: Simple and publicly accessible websites for citizen access to data on blight, vacancy, codes compliance, and the disposition of Housing Court cases are widely used in other cities with positive results.
Be it therefore resolved: That the Common Council will immediately and with all possible resources brought to the problem, investigate sources for grants and funding for the development of data analysis tools and self-serve citizen portals to combat blight and vacancy in the COB.
Be it further resolved: That following the example of Rochester, Chicago, New Orleans, Cleveland and Philadelphia, the Common Council will take steps to release all city owned raw data to the New York State Open Data Portal.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council will make data relevant to combating blight and vacancy available to citizens in an easily accessible and user-friendly interface.
Be it further resolved: That city employees will be properly trained to administer and use any systems that are implemented to give citizens useful and easy access to city data.
Feb 2015-Resolution: Professional Development for Codes Enforcers
Whereas: The Department of Permits and Inspections is charged with inspecting all properties that are reported to the 311 systems; and whereas the number of repeat offenders reported to 311 creates a backlog in the inspections process.
Whereas: The workload imposed on the Department of Permits and Inspections by the vacancy crisis of the 1990s has been exacerbated by the mortgage crisis of 2008, with no increase in staff or in funds for training and professional development; and whereas the COB Department of Permits and Inspections was not designed for the magnitude of the problems it is charged with solving; and whereas the Center for Community Progress recognizes that code enforcers across the nation, especially in Rust Belt cities, experience similar obstacles to combating blight and vacancy.
Whereas: The Department of Permits and Inspections responds on a first come first serve basis, with no method for prioritizing cases by the immediacy of the threat to public health.
Whereas: The Department of Permits and Inspections uses the Hansen system, but does not utilize the potential of this powerful tool for reporting, prioritizing and strategizing.
Whereas: The Department of Permits and Inspections does not currently have a formal plan in place for establishing goals for the reduction of blight and vacancy; that Department of Permits and Inspections does not have a demonstrable method for analyzing its own performance.
Whereas: Building Inspectors routinely write offending properties for Housing Court where cases linger for years because of a serious backlog in Housing Court.
Be it therefore resolved: That the Common Council recognizes the severity of the blight and vacancy problem in the city of Buffalo.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council recognizes that neighborhood residents have endured for years the nuisance and danger to public health and safety that dilapidated properties cause, despite repeated visits by building inspectors; and declare its commitment to ensuring public health and safety.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council recognizes that despite the diligence of individual inspectors and the intentions of department leadership, that P&I is not able to resolve blight and vacancy problems because of inadequate staffing, insufficient data analysis and reporting, and reliance on a Housing Court system that it dysfunctionally backlogged.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council recognizes the need for the Department of Permits and Inspections to analyze the extent of the problem of blight and vacancy, especially with regard to rental property owners who are repeat offenders; and that the Department of Permits and Inspections needs to use the Hansen system extensively and effectively to analyze the extent of the problem of blight and vacancy.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council will devise a two-tier strategy to reduce the threat to public health and safety caused by blight and vacancy; and that the strategy for blight reduction shall include near-term and long-term solutions.
Be it further resolved: That in the near term, the Common Council will cause to be created a special Task Force for handling complaints on repeat offenders.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council will demand a full accounting from the Department of Permits and Inspections of the current state of citations concerning blight and vacancy in the COB and a long-term plan for reducing blight and vacancy by at least 50% in the next 5 years.
Be it further resolved: That the Common Council will enable P&I to better accomplish its tasks by creating opportunities for professional development and requiring participation by P & I staff; and that the Common Council will, in particular, secure funding for advanced training for Codes Enforcers on the Hansen system to enable adequate analysis of current problems and goal setting for resolution.
Feb 2015-Resolution: Establishment of a Second Housing Court
Whereas: The Common Council of the COB declared in Chapter 264-1 of the City Code that “the rental of dwelling units constitutes a business which impacts upon the public health, safety and general welfare of the people of the City of Buffalo.
Whereas: It is the duty of the Commissioner of Permits and Inspections and his designees to enforce Chapter 341 on property maintenance by citing property owners, including property owners of rental dwelling units, for violations to safeguard the public health, safety, and general welfare of the people of the COB.
Whereas: Non-compliant property owners are referred to Housing Court by building inspectors; and whereas: Buffalo Housing Court has become the de facto codes enforcer for the COB in cases where the property owner is non-compliant after at least two citations.
Whereas: There is currently a serious backlog in housing Court; and whereas property written for housing court today will not be heard for at least three months, even when the code violation constitutes a threat to the health and safety of citizens because of fire hazards, criminal activity, or public health issues; and whereas Housing Court cases involving owners of rental dwelling units linger in the court for years without resolution.
Whereas: the costs of running the Housing Court is a part of the COB budget, and whereas: the court is unable to account for its use of funds in a manner which helps the auditors understand the how much it costs for a property complaint to reach adjudication in the Housing Court as it currently functions.
Whereas: The backlog in housing court constitutes a threat to the health and safety of the people of the COB because unresolved cases mean dangerous and hazardous conditions in housing may continue for years; and whereas Housing Court officials have taken no action to seriously reduce the growing numbers of lingering cases especially as concerns repeat offenders.
Be it therefore resolved: That the City of Buffalo will devise a system of triage to identify Housing Court cases where the defendant is an off-premise landlord with multiple properties in violation of city codes; and that a second housing court be set up immediately to quickly resolve any such housing court cases that have been lingering for more than two years.
Be it further resolved: That, as cases are adjudicated in the triage court, defendants involved in lingering cases be sentenced to maximum fines and maximum jail time; that following the example of Housing Court in Rochester, NY and other municipalities around the nation, a remedy for the sentence shall be the immediate transfer of title of the non-compliant properties to a benevolent owner.