The Brief: Michael Nutter’s “Historic” L&I Investment
Watchdogs have said for years that Philadelphia’s Licenses & Inspections department is dangerously underfunded.
It was a victim of the recession, enduring cutbacks in staff under Mayor Michael Nutter. During his budget address Thursday, Nutter proposed an additional $5.5 million for the department next fiscal year, which would translate into 43 new employees. By 2018, he said L&I plans to boost its staff by 20 percent.
Nutter said the coming year’s funding will be used to implement many of the recommendations made by a commission that he appointed in the wake of the fatal 2013 building collapse at 22nd and Market streets. He said L&I’s plans for the future are “aggressive” and will carefully target vacant properties.
City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, a vocal anti-blight advocate, called the investment “historic.” Her statement on Nutter’s budget proposal also had details on how the money would be used. She said L&I’s approach to addressing vacant lots would be data-driven:
These funds will allow us to obtain Philadelphia’s first-ever comprehensive photographic inventory of vacant properties. This inventory will [used] by LIDAR and satellite technology, and be regularly updated. With the data from this inventory, we will be able to fully assess needs and prioritize our enforcement efforts to make sure that we know about hazardous buildings before a tragic collapse or fire. These investments will also allow L&I to hire dedicated staff, including GIS analysts, to focus on vacant properties and collaboration with the new Philadelphia Land Bank. With these resources, L&I will be able to restart and significantly expand the strategic approach to vacant property enforcement that was evaluated a success by nationally-recognized experts at The Reinvestment Fund.
In a city that is estimated to have a whopping 40,000 vacant properties, using data to help fix up the worst of the worst seems like a shrewd and realistic decision.
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