Dallas is rolling out a new approach to code enforcement, the lack of which has been a long-standing complaint from city residents.
“We're going to make a policy statement that says all of our Dallas residents deserve to live in an environment that's clean and safe,” Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said.
There have been many new code enforcement managers and programs announced over the years from Dallas City Hall.
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The latest leader to tackle the job is Carl Simpson, who joined the City of Dallas in May 2019 from Sacramento, California.
Much of the past year, code inspectors have been side-tracked with COVID-19 social distancing enforcement.
Now that they are returning to the typical problems of trash and high weeds, Simpson delivered his Code Compliance Redeployment and Engagement Plan to City Council members this week, with very positive reviews.
“I'm 100% supportive with no qualifications supportive of this proposal,” Councilman Chad West said.
Simpson said Dallas assigns 111 inspectors to seven different code enforcement districts based on the number of complaints from those areas.
Three Southern Dallas code districts with higher complaints have more staffing than the other four. But even in those districts, problem spots with serious violations may still get overlooked if they receive fewer complaints.
Councilman Tennell Atkins’ Southern Dallas City Council District includes portions of all three of the highest three code enforcement districts.
Atkins said code employees are spread thin and it is difficult even for him to reach people with answers about code violation problem spots.
“And by the time they get to know that area, then they move on somewhere else,” Atkins said.
The new plan is to hire 34 more code employees to focus on health and safety problems, especially in overlooked areas. It could cost nearly $3 million more each year, with some of the money coming from code violation fines.
Councilman Jaime Resendez said some people may be unable to pay for proper maintenance at this time.
“Isn't there a balance between trying to be helpful of a community and being punitive as well,” Resendez said.
Simpson said another goal of the new approach is to give existing inspectors more time to be in touch with their assigned neighborhoods, to be community partners for improvements without imposing fines.
“Instead of just walking up to the property, issuing a notice of violation or a ticket and just walking away, my goal is to just try to get the officers to spend time with our residents,” Simpson said. “A lot of these folks are struggling, especially after COVID, people having lost their jobs, people still not in work yet. And it is my expectation that we work with folks to the extent that we can.”
City Manager T.C. Broadnax said he would find the money to continue the improved code enforcement program for a full year of funding in the next city budget.
“If council is supportive of the additional activities as well as the new approach, then we would move forward,” Broadnax said.
The plan calls for having more code employees on the payroll by July.
Simpson said code enforcement would also work more closely with the sanitation department on bulk trash set-out times and to boost inspection of rental properties that need more attention.