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Starting this fall, the city of Brockton will be better able to tackle blight and clean up troubled properties thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Attorney General’s Office.
Brockton was told in August that it would receive the maximum grant amount to help pay for software that will help several city departments centralize their code enforcement information in one computer program. According to city officials, the new program is expected to come online within about a month and will allow city employees to look up a property and see its entire enforcement history.
Up until now, employees from different departments have been entering code enforcement details into separate files, and those files weren’t connected. As a result, employees would have to make decisions about a property with only a partial picture of what might be going on at that address, said Paul Umano, Brockton’s grants coordinator.
“Everybody was operating in their own silos, in terms of code enforcement,” Umano said. “We just needed one system.”
The new system will link data from departments including building, police, fire, public works, the Board of Health, and the Brockton Redevelopment Authority, Umano said. When examining a property, employees will be able to see if it has building code infractions, health code violations, or changes in tax or ownership status, among other issues.
The $25,000 will pay for the first two years of license costs and program upkeep. Brockton will have 20 software licenses, Umano said, and the city is working with vendor Tolemi to arrange for training and to get the program up and running. Umano said he expects the software to be user-friendly.
He said the software is also capable of learning, so it can flag issues such as records inconsistently identifying the owner of multiple properties with different spellings or with the use or absence of nicknames or middle initials.
In recent years, Brockton has been intensifying its efforts to rid the city of blight, said Nick Giaquinto, chief of staff to Mayor Moises Rodrigues. The mayor’s Quality of Life Task Force meets weekly to discuss neighborhood problems such as noise violations and overflowing trash, he said.
“The agendas we have are quite lengthy,” Giaquinto said.
And sharing code enforcement information by email or conversation wasn’t efficient.
Giaquinto said the city has come a long way in the past few years, from having no real mechanism to coordinate code enforcement, to establishing the task force and setting up SeeClickFix, an application that allows residents to report problems such as potholes, trash or graffitti. The new code enforcement software represents the next step in these efforts, he said.
Brockton received its grant through the attorney general’s Technology to Enrich Community Housing program, designed to help communities save time on property research and speed up anti-blight efforts. The office has awarded six grants since starting the program last year, and will award up to $200,000 on a rolling basis.
The AG’s Abandoned Housing Initiative has worked with Brockton for almost a decade to help reduce the number of vacant and blighted residential properties. According to the AG’s office, Brockton will activate a software tool to allow for city-state cooperation on properties that Brockton refers to the Abandoned Housing Initiative for receivership action. As a result, both the city’s and the state’s staff will be able to access case files with property data and litigation updates.
The grant funds originate from a nationwide settlement over unlawful foreclosure practices by banks.
Giaquinto said Brockton and other cities are still grappling with the effects of the 2008 recession and the foreclosure crisis.