A Doorway to Opportunity Closes: Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia Strikes Down Windows and Doors Ordinance

aboutAHCDnew3The Philadelphia City Council Windows and Doors Ordinance was an effective policy that held absentee property managers accountable for properties missing doors and windows. Abandoned structures without doors and windows become areas suited for criminal activity and contribute to neighborhood blight.

In a decision issued on September 22, 2015, the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County struck down a decision of the Board of Licenses and Inspection Review (L&I) against a property owner who had appealed a finding that its property was blighted and in violation of the “Windows and Doors” ordinance.

The Program
Using a variety of tools, L&I was fining owners of properties in low-vacancy areas $300 per opening (missing door or window) per day. The initiative was data-driven in choosing which areas were best to target in order to get the best outcomes for the surrounding neighborhood.

The Impact
The Reinvestment Fund did an analysis of the impact of the initiative and found that “L&I’s concentrated enforcement activities, as authorized through Act 90, have had a measurable impact on the areas targeted.” Specifically, areas with aggressive enforcement saw increases in home sales prices compared to similar areas that didn’t have aggressive enforcement. In addition, while the areas without aggressive enforcement saw an increase in property delinquency, the targeted areas saw delinquency numbers stay relatively flat.

RHLS has, as a part of its work with the Data Collaborative, consisting of RHLS, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, The Reinvestment Fund, LISC Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, analyzed the impact of the “Windows and Doors” ordinance in Philadelphia and found that it had a significant positive affect on the neighborhoods where it was implemented.

The University of Pennsylvania studied the Windows and Doors Program in Philadelphia, finding that “Building remediation were significantly associated with citywide reductions in overall crimes, total assaults, gun assaults, and nuisance crimes.”

The Reinvestment Fund published, Strategic Property Code Enforcement and its Impact on Surrounding Markets in August of 2014, which specifically analyzes the impacts and effectiveness of the Windows and Doors Ordinance. Regional Housing Legal Services assisted with the report as a part of our work with the Data Collaborative.

The ordinance was an effective strategy to combat blight was disappointing. A further disappointment was that the court stated that “[t]he record is void of any testimony that putting windows and doors on the property would make the property any safer” and alleged that the ordinance was merely about aesthetics.

Though the ordinance was overturned, the Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspections will continue to enforce the rule while the decision undergoes an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas. RHLS will continue to provide updates as the situation evolves.

Check out this article in PlanPhilly to learn more about the issue.