Allegheny County is set to overhaul its 25-year-old housing health code.


The Allegheny County Health Department plans to revise its housing health regulations for the first time in 25 years, and will soon open a 60-day period for members of the public to weigh in on the proposed revisions. Housing advocacy groups, however, are concerned whether this provides enough of a platform for community members and professionals to share their views.

“If a code revision is underway but there is no insight and perspective from the most influential individuals, they may be missing out on some of the most critical information to guide decision-making,” said Michelle Nacarati-Chapkis, executive director of the non-profit. Women for a healthy environment.

At the county board of health’s bimonthly meeting on May 3, health department officials presented proposals for improvements. Article VI Department rules and regulations. Article VI covers the county’s housing and community environment policies, establishing permitting requirements, “minimum standards” for property conditions, and responsibilities of owners and residents.

The board voted last week to open a public comment period, which will last until July, during which time the Department of Health will conduct. Public hearing and complete written comments from community residents. At the end of this period, the department will incorporate the feedback collected into a revised version of the Article VI amendment, which the board will vote on in the fall.

Public comment periods are intended to help the Health Department gather input from affected residents. However, advocates for ensuring “strong community participation” in the Article VI amendment process Calling On board to convene a housing advisory committee – despite the Department of Health’s concerns about how long it will take to appoint such a committee.

“The general public has an important role to play in promoting policy and practice changes to improve the housing goals and objectives of the Board and the Department,” said Kevin Quisenberry, Director of Legal Advocacy. Non-profit assistance Community Justice Project, during the public comment section of the meeting. “Currently, the Department of Health has no structured mechanism for this type of community engagement with the housing program.”

Public source and WESA investigation It raised questions about the effectiveness of Article VI in 2021. The two outlets looked at data from 8,765 home health complaints received by the department from 2017 to mid-2021 – from lack of heat and water to sewage to rodent infestations. The investigation found the department made the corrections in roughly two out of every five cases and assessed only nine fines.

The department’s discussion of home health standards comes months after the city of Pittsburgh’s efforts to regulate rental housing.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in March Purchased When landlord advocates protested against the city administration against a law requiring the registration and inspection of rental properties. The city last month He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the State.

Balancing participation and benefit

Creating effective housing policies requires bringing together people who offer “unique perspectives, perspectives and life experiences” about community life, said Nakarati-Chapkis, a member of the Allegheny County Council.

“That input helps bring about all the important and potentially necessary changes in the legislation, unlike during a public comment period, where you’re just reviewing and responding to what’s being presented,” she added.

If called, Kisenberry said a housing advisory committee should be made up of subject matter experts, advocates, housing providers and residents. They proposed to model the Housing Advisory Committee on the Department of Health’s existing Food Safety Advisory Committees. Air pollution controlIts members live in affected areas or have experience in industry, academia or business.

During the meeting, the board members expressed their desire to form a housing advisory committee, and this committee should lead the process of amending Article 6.

The Allegheny County Health Department has taken steps to prevent the dangers of lead paint and dust in older buildings.  On May 3, 2023, the Board of Health voted to open a public comment period on amendments to the county's housing and community environment rules.  (Photo by Kimberly Rowan/PublicSource)
The Allegheny County Health Department has taken steps to prevent the dangers of lead paint and dust in older buildings. On May 3, 2023, the Board of Health voted to open a public comment period on amendments to the county’s housing and community environment rules. (Photo by Kimberly Rowan/PublicSource)

Otis Pitts, the health department’s deputy director of food safety, housing and policy, said the department gives all public comments — including the request to form an advisory committee — “fair consideration” and responds in a timely manner. He added that advisory committees “add value” to the policy reform process, but he is skeptical of creating one for housing code reforms.

“It will take some time to recruit and appoint different members,” he said. “Given the nature of this set of updates, I don’t want to jeopardize this basic and fundamental set of standards.”

The Pitts Group hopes to implement the Article VI revisions by July 1, 2024. The last update of the code was in 1997.

Nakarati-Chapkis said the department began meeting with stakeholders about updating the county’s housing code in 2019, but put those discussions on hold as the Covid-19 pandemic changed priorities and staffing changes. They continued to meet last year about the revisions.

“We’ve been waiting since 1997, we shouldn’t rush through this housing advisory committee process,” she said. “You can move forward with the proposed changes. However, we know there are still many areas in the Title VI code that really need to be revised and that affect the health of the resident community.”

Update policies and improve security

The Department of Health’s proposed revisions to Article VI focused on increasing the code’s readability, improving safety standards, and updating property maintenance requirements to meet international standards.

Part of the revisions are aimed at clarifying the responsibilities of landlords and tenants, including changes to help tenants report issues to landlords, work with landlords to control pests, prevent fire hazards and safely store potentially hazardous materials.

Several sections of the code have been updated to reflect the standards set out in International Property Maintenance CodeEstablishes minimum requirements for ventilation, occupancies, plumbing, fire safety, and mechanical and electrical equipment. These include adjustment requirements regarding ventilation and open windows.

The department is proposing improvements to property safety requirements, including enforcing curbs on all entry doors, requiring property owners to provide adequate trash storage containers for tenants, and installing carbon monoxide detectors for all residences, fuel-burning appliances, ongoing renovations, fireplaces, or renovations. Attached garages.

Part of the revision process includes updating more than 20 definitions to improve the clarity of Article VI, which they believe will improve compliance.

“Article VI, as it reads now, is a little tighter,” Tim Murphy, the department’s housing and community environment program manager, said at the board meeting. But we feel it’s important that the average resident be able to understand it.

Amelia Winger is a public resource health reporter focusing on mental health. She can be reached at or on Twitter. @ameliawinger.

This reporting was made possible through the Staunton Farm Mental Health Reporting Fellowship and the Jewish Health Care Foundation.

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