Software, Data Sharing Will Help Fight Urban Blight

The municipalities will be using Municity to share resources among themselves and identify potential problem landlords.

by Andrew Beam, The Daily Gazette / April 2, 2018
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(TNS) — SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — The city, and some neighboring municipalities, will soon be using a new software to combat urban blight and to help properly keep track of various properties.

It’s called Municity, and it is a cloud-based software program soon to be utilized by the cities including Schenectady, Amsterdam, Gloversville and Troy. It’s a collaboration that city officials hope will reduce the amount of vacant and abandoned properties by sharing resources among municipalities and identifying potential problem landlords.

All of the municipalities will be using Municity to also help track various properties in their respective cities, including which violations each property has or when they’re due for inspections, except for Troy.

Troy is only lending information regarding properties in its city for the shared services website that each of the municipalities will have access to.

The software has been in existence since 1983 with the company Municity, which is based in Red Hook, Dutchess County.

When it was created, it was meant for just individual use by each municipality, according to Municity owner Wil Labossier. But with the most recent installment, Municity 5, it is now a cloud-based system, where stored information can be accessed anywhere on a computer or mobile device.

“It’s used to help a building department manage everything about their municipality,” Labossier said.

This includes things such as building permitting, code enforcement, building inspections, zoning variances, and fees and fines levied on a property. Labossier also said the program will give notifications and reminders if a property’s inspection due date is coming up so that it isn’t missed.

And because it utilizes a cloud-based system, building inspectors and code enforcement officers can access property information on their tablet or other mobile devices when they’re in the field. It will replace having to go back to the office to look up this information.

“[Municipalities] will save an hour to two hours a day by being able to do everything in the field,” Labossier said. “They can pull up a property and see its entire history on their tablet, so they can see if it had previous violations, has open permits or if [the property owner] is doing work without a permit.”

There will also be a new component for the program. A $558,000 grant from the state Department of State has allowed the program to create the ability for property information to be shared across municipalities. It required a 10 percent match from each city.

Schenectady has paid a total of $21,000 to get the program going, according to city Finance Commissioner Anthony Ferrari. It will be required to pay $41,000 each year to maintain the service, according to John Coluccio, the city’s signal superintendent, who is overseeing the rollout of the program.

Coluccio said the sharing of resources could benefit each municipality by identifying problem landlords in one municipality, and potentially stopping them from buying property in another.

“The goal is to reduce blighted properties,” Coluccio said.

Coluccio said the plan is to also try to bring more unified code language for each municipality, or to at least simplify it. However, Coluccio said there will still be a possibility that each municipality will address code issues differently.

The municipalities are working with the Center for Technology in Government at the state University at Albany to develop the shared services program, according to its communications manager Ben Meyers.

Meyers said in an email that the Center for Technology has been leading and facilitating the discussion among the municipalities. While the shared services program is being developed by these four municipalities, the hope is that it will have a wider implementation.

“The ultimate aim is to create an information-sharing platform that all municipalities in New York state can use as a tool to fight blight,” Meyers said.

Coluccio said Schenectady has been working with Municity and the other municipalities to develop eight different programs that they will be able to use. This is thanks to another grant from the state Department of State for $572,000, which Coluccio said does not have a matching component.

The list of programs being developed are:

  1. A vacant property program to identify and track vacant properties.
  2. A code violation program to see which violations a property has, how much in fees are owed and establish a time frame for when they can be paid back.
  3. A landlord registration program to identify and monitor various landlords.
  4. A rental unit certificate program to make sure rental units are complying with city and state codes.
  5. A program to identify whicht buildings are considered areas of public assembly -- such as schools or auditoriums -- and whether they are in compliance with city codes.
  6. A building permit program used to track and monitor changes in different properties.
  7. A foreclosure program to track how many tax delinquent properties each area of the city has.
  8. A demolition program to track and identify different properties that need to be demolished so the city can make sure it has enough funding to perform the demolitions.

“These are things that were developed based on this project we have been working on,” Coluccio said. “Municity didn’t have all of these things in it.”

City officials said this collaboration and development of these programs with Municity came even before the state Comptroller’s Office began its audit of the building and code enforcement departments in Schenectady and five other municipalities.

The audit took place from Jan. 1, 2015, through Feb. 21, 2017, a period that includes the Jay Street fire.

The audit said of the city’s 1,440 multiple-dwelling units, code enforcement officials had only inspected 756, or 53 percent, within the state’s required three-year cycle. The audit also said the city’s list of multiple-dwelling units only listed 94 properties. It was soon discovered the city actually had 1,440 multiple-dwelling units after the state Comptroller’s Office asked the city to produce a list of potential multiple-dwelling units and then compared that list to the city’s tax rolls and new multiple-dwelling unit permits.

In the city’s response, Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city had inspected 288 of the 684 units it failed to inspect in the state-required three-year window.

Also in the response, as well as in a guest column in The Daily Gazette, and co-authored with Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens, McCarthy pointed to Municity as a program that will be used by the city to keep better track of its properties.

Chief Building Inspector Christopher Lunn said in an email that the city Code Enforcement Department has been using the Munis Central Property, a property-management system developed by Tyler Technologies, since 2008 to keep track of its properties. Before that, Lunn said they used Excel spreadsheets to keep track of properties since 2004.

“Before that, I don’t believe we used any method to properly track the housing stock,” Lunn said.

Eidens said he is “very excited” about using Municity. He said city employees are already being trained on the program.

“There is great potential for Municity to really change, dramatically, how we deal with code enforcement issues,” Eidens said.

©2018 The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.