In a press conference Wednesday morning, City Controller Alan Butkovitz released a report detailing rampant non-compliance with city codes on construction sites in North Central Philadelphia. He said that poor and uncoordinated monitoring of construction near Temple University is deteriorating the quality of life for residents of the neighborhood.
“I think we take for granted that if these projects were taking place in Center City, then [building codes] would be strictly observed,” Butkovitz told reporters gathered for the conference at the Municipal Services Building.
“North Philadelphia shouldn’t be dumped on because it is a poor, lower-income neighborhood,” he added.
The Controller’s report identified a number of common violations in the neighborhood, including illegal short dumping, improperly maintained screens and filters, and unpermitted street closures construction sites, to name a few.
But the report was most critical of the City agencies charged with monitoring development.
A statement issued alongside the report said that “inefficient project monitoring and inadequate code enforcement” among the departments of Licenses and Inspections, Streets, Water, Public Health, and Police was “one of the most significant findings” of the study, which was conducted over the spring and summer.
“The minimal oversight and lack of communication among the five departments is allowing for contractors to engage in activities that violate various codes and negatively impacts the quality of life of the residents in the surrounding neighborhood,” Butkovitz said in the statement.
The Controller’s office called for those five agencies to create a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to “provide guidance to and authority for any inspector observing building code violations to immediately address the condition observed.”
During the conference, Butkovitz said that both L&I and the Streets departments had deferred to the other when confronted with certain violations by the Controller’s office.
The report also calls for the creation of a mobile app for use by City employees, with which they could “send pictures, videos, and additional information, such as GPS location, into a central location where each department could review, document and determine appropriate action.”
It is no secret that many city agencies—especially, perhaps, L&I—are understaffed, and Butkovitz said that lack of City resources contributes to non-compliant development near Temple.
But he also said the problem was one of “prioritization,” in which the agencies neglect North Central more than other areas of the city. He said the Controller’s office hadn’t been getting the same number of complaints from other parts of Philadelphia.
“When the City doesn’t have a serious view of code enforcement, it incentivizes bad behavior,” Butkovitz said.
Showing pictures of some of the violations, Butkovitz pointed to one “real example of arrogance,” in which a developer had built a staircase at the front of a multi-unit house that encroaches 7 feet onto the sidewalk. The City’s Streets Code allows a maximum 4 1/2-foot encroachment.
“How do you build steps to within 4 feet of the curb if there’s any modicum of enforcement going on?” Butkovitz said.