"A lot of what we do is not easy."
That was the message Wayne Bossinger, field operations manager for Pittsburgh's Bureau of Building Inspections, conveyed as guest speaker at the May meeting of the Allentown Community Development Corporation.
"We can't clean up every mess…We can do a lot. We need the input of neighbors to help us," Mr. Bossinger said. "We can't promise we'll solve 100 percent of the problems. We will make a difference by the end of the day."
He heard complaints that night about several "problem properties" in the neighborhood. Also, District Magisterial Judge Richard King told him that he felt it took too long for complaints filed by building inspectors to reach his office. He said he might not get a complaint about summer's high grass until the fall or winter.
"I do sympathize with them," said Councilman Bruce Kraus, who, like Judge King, regularly attends Allentown CDC meetings. "They are in over their heads. But people can bring photos of problems to the Zone 3 public safety meetings. There are only so many hours in the day. Look at this man. He looks tired."
"There are citations written in August and I don't get them until October or November," Judge King said. "Why is there all this review by supervisors before I get them? I never got a good answer on that."
Mr. Bossinger responded that he did some of the review and was often finding notations that needed to be changed. "There are a lot of errors on those tickets. I understand that you have a problem."
He said there were complications caused by shifts in personnel. Also, some would-be inspectors are not passing the tests, leaving the department short handed. "It is not easy to be certified a building inspector. The codes are complicated. We were busy last year. It was a busy construction period."
"I share your frustration but things are changing," Mr. Kraus said. He said the mayor increased the budget for demolition.
"My question is: Why don't you recruit people?" Judy Hackel, Allentown CDC president, asked.
"My understanding is that they are recruiting. They hired five people but they have to be certified," Mr. Kraus said.
One lady complained about a house with a pile of brush five feet high. "The pile keeps growing bigger. All it takes is a little bit of effort. It has been an on going problem for years. We're afraid that it might attract rodents and woodchucks." Mr. Bossinger took a notation on the address.
Ms. Hackel asked it were better to call the Mayor's 3-1-1 response line or to call an inspector about a problem.
"It is always better to call 3-1-1 first. It gets downloaded and the inspectors receive the information on their laptops," he responded.
Another complaint concerned an "illegal rooming house" that advertised several rooms for rent when it is supposedly for residential occupancy only. Mr. Bossinger again noted the problem.
Another complaint: "A lot of things are done the way they have always done them back in the 60s and 70s. I see a huge amount of waste," Mr. King said.
Mr. Bossinger was asked if the inspectors were proactive and answered that they were but some were more aggressive than others.
Mr. Kraus said his office could get involved if calls to 3-1-1 do not resolve problems.
To have the inspectors more accessible to the public, the city has begun moving them into the communities several days a week in the local police stations. Two inspectors are expected to soon have office hours in the Zone 3 Police Station in the near future. Although the days "aren't set in stone," Mr. Bossinger said they will probably be in the station on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Father Victor Cianca, of the Arabic Catholic Diocese of the USA, spoke briefly at the end of the meeting.
He told the group he is looking for a building where he could establish a church in the area, which he praised with much enthusiasm.
"You don't realize what you have. You're sitting on a gold mine here," he said.