Chicago - Jul. 18, 2018
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Buildings' Department Backlog Endangers Chicagoans: Blocked Exits, Seniors' Homes Without Water, Bricks Falling Onto A Sidewalk Used By Schoolchildren, And Mouse, Rat, Mold And Bed Bug Infestations

A report released Tuesday by the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General found that the City of Chicago Department of Buildings had a backlog of more than 5,000 complaints, some dating back to 2013, almost 200 of which described serious health and safety hazards.

OIG's audit also found that DOB met its department response deadline for only 36.5 percent of building complaints in the first five months of 2017. The audit also determined that DOB did not have an effective strategy for prioritizing complaints, and exceeded the Municipal Code of Chicago mandatory 21-day deadline for several complaint types. In addition, the City Data Portal and DOB Building Violation websites failed to provide a property's full violation history.

"Deadlines that fail to meet legal mandates set by the City ordinance, public information that lacks transparency, and unaddressed health and safety hazards pose far too many risks to the residents of Chicago," said Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

"We encourage DOB to approach improvements to its complaint-based inspection operations holistically and programmatically, utilizing robust performance metrics to inform a comprehensive, rather than a piecemeal, approach."

Among OIG's recommendations:

  • Immediately identifying and addressing open, overdue emergency complaints.
  • Conducting a staffing analysis to determine how many inspectors and support staff are needed to manage each bureau's workload and respond promptly to complaints, along with guidance and training on the most efficient methods of identifying and processing complaints.
  • Working with 311 to improve the information collected from complainants, as well as the Office of Budget and Management to obtain the technology necessary for all inspectors to enter complaint outcome and inspection information electronically from the field.
  • Improving the usefulness of publicly available data and working with the Department of Innovation Technology to provide more meaningful and complete property information to the public.

The full report.

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From the report:

"This backlog of 5,473 overdue open complaints included some dating back to 2013, and included complaints describing such serious life and safety hazards as,

  • water leaking down an elevator shaft onto electrical wires;
  • homes without water;
  • seniors without water;
  • no hot water for a week at a daycare center;
  • blocked exits and escape routes;
  • an unfenced excavation site;
  • loose, unsecured slats that pose a fall hazard on a 3rd floor walkway;
  • bricks falling onto a sidewalk used by children walking to school;
  • mouse, rat, mold, and bed bug infestations; and
  • living spaces without carbon monoxide or smoke detectors."

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"OIG identified a number of reasons for DOB's large backlog of overdue complaints and low overall on-time complaint response rate. These reasons fall into three general categories: insufficient human and technological resources, poor prioritization, and lack of performance monitoring."

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"Some supervisors cited a dearth of inspectional and clerical staff to explain why their operations were not running efficiently.

"They stated that without sufficient inspectional staff, bureaus could not address complaints in a timely manner.

"Only three bureaus - Conservation/Code Enforcement, Vacant Property/Demolition, and Refrigeration - are equipped with laptops or mobile phones that interface with CSR, allowing supervisors and inspectors to review, assign, track, and complete complaint inspections electronically.

"Personnel in the other nine technical bureaus must use paper forms to review, assign, and record complaint-based inspection results, which must then be manually entered into a computer upon an inspector's return to the office.

"Without sufficient clerical staff to enter inspection data into CSR and Hansen 7, supervisors and inspectors enter data themselves, which is a poor use of their time and expertise.

"DOB management agreed that bureaus were understaffed, and noted that a previous commissioner's intent to 'right-size' the number of inspectors per bureau was never implemented.

"Department management stated further that it had completed staffing analyses for three bureaus (Elevators, Ventilation, and Boilers), but OIG found that these analyses focused on the number of inspectors needed to conduct annual, permit, and license inspections, not complaint-based inspections."

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From DOB management's response, included in the audit:

"[DOB] notes that it has added inspector positions respectively in the following recent budget years: 10 in 2017 and 1 in 2018."

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"DOB also notes that a 2015 change in state law had the unintended consequence of impacting DOB's ability to hire plumbing inspectors.

"DOB and LCGA immediately undertook efforts to seek an amendment to the state law but the State process unfortunately took approximately 6 months to correct.

"Once the state law was corrected, DOB was able to hire 6 plumbing inspectors in 2017 and will be hiring an additional 4 in 2018 which will enable the department to respond to plumbing related 311 referrals in a timely manner and to make staffing adjustments based on volume and the triage assessment."

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"DOB notes that the 21-day investigation language was enacted in June of 1981. DOB will work with the Law Dept. on appropriate language to submit for the 2019 Management Ordinance which will maintain the spirit of the law that investigations be conducted in a timely manner consistent with public health and safety."

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Comments welcome.



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