Penn Hills considers updating code enforcement to fight blight
Penn Hills Community Development Corporation leaders say that a new vacant property ordinance is a good step to reduce blight, but that the code enforcement department needs more staff and resources.
“We are all concerned because of our property values,” Irene McLaughlin, chairperson of the group’s economic development committee and housing committee, said at the Nov. 17 council meeting.
Development corporation leaders would like council to build a larger staff and use code-enforcement technology more effectively as they develop the 2015 budget.
The nonprofit group, started in 2009, would like to see an update in the software that is used to digitally write citations as well as changes in the tenancy occupancy permits.
The four code-enforcement officers are “busy” and “constantly responding to complaints,” municipal manager Mohammed Rayan said, adding that the municipality always has had four code-enforcement officers.
The number of officers is based on a national average, he said.
He could not say whether there would be money in the budget for new hires.
“If there’s a need for additional staff, we will certainly make sure to adjust to that,” he said.
The code-enforcement department receives about 1,000 complaints each year.
John McCafferty, acting director of the code-enforcement department, said there has been an increase in complaints filed and employees are handling cases as quickly as they can.
An uptick in vacant properties and non-owner occupied homes in Penn Hills has created an unprecedented amount of code complaints, he said.
“We have a great more need for code enforcement than we’ve ever seen before,” McLaughlin said.
Planning Director Howard Davidson said it is difficult to determine the number of abandoned properties but that the amount of abandoned, foreclosed or blighted properties is increasing.
In 2001, Penn Hills had 72 foreclosed or vacant properties. In 2005 there were 159, and in 2008 there were 179.
At the Nov. 17 meeting, council approved a vacant-property ordinance that will give the municipality more tools to address blight and abandoned properties.
The ordinance sets stricter maintenance requirements for vacant properties, requires owners to pay registration fees on vacant properties and calls for the municipality to create a database listing all vacant properties.
McLaughlin said that the CDC members view this as a positive step but that code enforcement must be improved as well.
Deputy Mayor Sara Kuhn met with the CDC earlier this month to discuss code enforcement and called the meeting “productive” for both parties.
Kuhn said she thinks code enforcement is on the right track, citing a recent ordinance dealing with abandoned cars, the vacant property ordinance and the requirement that all new hires be trained to use new software.
Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7845 or [email protected].