Michigan Municipal League May/June 2023 Review Magazine

Strategic Code Enforcement: Advancing Equity and Improving Compliance

By Libby Benton

D uring a presentation on strategic code enforcement in Austin, Texas, Phil Crowe had an epiphany. As executive administrator for the Louisville Metro Government’s (LMG) Codes and Regulations department, Crowe was proud that his department treated all properties with housing and building code violations the same, regardless of property owner, type, or neighborhood. The policy’s intent was to ensure fairness with the goal of resolving code violations so that buildings would be safe for residents and the community. But as he listened, Crowe realized this traditional approach to code enforcement often had the opposite effect. Low-income homeowners would use their limited dollars to pay fines when that money would be better spent making repairs. Meanwhile, absentee owners and unscrupulous landlords simply ignored citations and fees altogether. In both cases, code enforcement was not bringing properties into compliance. LMG needed a better approach. Luckily, Crowe experienced his “aha” moment at the Center for Community Progress’ 2022 Vacant Property Leadership Institute (VPLI), a four-day training where small delegations of local leaders learned about equitable strategies to address vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties. After VPLI, Crowe and his colleagues wasted no time implementing reforms. They gave code enforcement officers more discretion to issue warnings and waive citations, shifted their strategy on abandoned properties from ineffective penalties to timely abatement, worked with Community Progress to conduct a racial equity audit of their policies, and dedicated $1 million in new home repair assistance funds to owner-occupied properties. In the year since Phil Crowe’s epiphany, Louisville has drawn local media attention for its efforts to create a more strategic, equitable code enforcement process. Louisville’s journey and the resources it used along the way can serve as a model for communities in Michigan and across the country.


MAY / JUNE 2023

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