Editorial reply to Commissioner Wright

In the interests of fairness, we have printed in full Commissioner Wright's reply to our July coverage of a study on HPD code enforcement, even though Ms. Wright's reply is considerably longer than our coverage of the Hevesi/Leichter study.

No one would deny that HPD has a tough job, one which is made even more difficult by the steady erosion of the number of building inspectors during the past few years. Nor would one deny that current laws which require the City to initiate litigation in Housing Court are out of date, and are an inefficient and wasteful approach to code enforcement. Neither Commissioner Wright nor HPD are responsible for these obstacles to code enforcement.

However, it appears to us that Commissioner Wright misses the main point of the Hevesi/Leichter study. While HPD measures and reports statistics about its code enforcement work ( such as the volume of complaints received, the number of inspections it performs, etc.) these measures do not provide concrete information about the effectiveness of these procedures.

According to the Hevesi/Leichter investigation, HPD's own database of violations validates what investigators found in their field visits, i.e., complaints are investigated by HPD, problems are found, and violations are issued. However, many repairs are not made. For example, in their examination of three buildings with hundreds of violations, the investigators found that HPD inspectors identify the same conditions repeatedly and they issue multiple violations for the same uncorrected conditions. This practice simply adds to the count of activities performed by HPD, and according to Hevesi and Leichter, "obfuscates what the practice indicates: that HPD is not always effective in attaining a goal of achieving owner compliance with the Housing Code."

The Commissioner is correct in saying that 65% of the pending Manhattan cases of the Department's Housing Litigation Bureau are in connection with buildings located in Community Districts 9, 10, 11, or 12 (Harlem and Washington Heights). However this percentage translates into only 510 cases. Given the fact that over 50 % of all 1994 inspections were made in Harlem or Washington Heights, this is a very modest figure.

Additionally, we believe Commissioner Wright is mistaken when she maintains that the breadth of NYC's code enforcement program "is unmatched by any other city in the nation."

The Hevesi/Leichter team contacted the administrators of housing inspection operations in nine major American cities. They found in contrast to NYC, all nine cities surveyed determine whether violations have been corrected.

In Chicago, for example, 92.5% of violations are actually corrected; in Baltimore, 92%; in Philadelphia, 85%. This stands in stark contrast to the 57% rating admitted by HPD.

We agree with the Hevesi/Leichter conclusion that unless HPD begins to define the correction of violations as its overall goal, the agency will continue to measure the success of its Housing Code enforcement efforts only in the number of activities it performs.