Pittsburgh building inspection improving, but needs work

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In 2008, a report by consultant TriData offered a blistering assessment of Pittsburgh's Bureau of Building Inspections, calling the city agency outdated, understaffed, undertrained and underequipped.

But the bureau has made significant strides toward complying with the recommendations, according to a progress report presented Wednesday to the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, such as buying a fleet of vehicles for its inspectors, improving training and upgrading technology. Still, said Stephen Brezler of TriData, "There's much more to do."

"Most of it has to do with technology, information systems," he told board members at their meeting Wednesday. "Four years later, BBI struggles to use technology effectively."

BBI has been under close watch since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked the ICA to order a review of the bureau in 2008. The mayor had made it a priority to reduce blight in the city but found a road block in the unwieldy, largely paper-driven department.

The latest report offers a more optimistic review. Mr. Brezler cited the purchase of 17 marked cars as a marked improvement over inspectors using their own personal vehicles. The cars are also equipped with laptops and GPS, so supervisors can monitor where employees go.

Mr. Brezler said the other major issue is that the current head, John Jennings, is the acting chief, which can have "a placeholder effect." He said the bureau was having difficulty attracting a permanent head in part because it could not offer attractive pay.

Joanna Doven, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office, commended the bureau's progress and also said there's more work to be done.

"There's been more progress that's been seen at BBI over the last five years than you've seen over the last 50 years," she said.

But she said many of the problems cited in the draft report were out of the city's hands. The city, for example, is barred by law from paying a department head more than the mayor, who makes around $105,000. And there are cost constraints to implementing other recommendations contained in the report, she said.

"We have to balance our budget," she said.

neigh_city - businessnews

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.


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