By: Rebecca Swanson, Director of Planning and Analysis, City of Philadelphia, Department of Licenses and Inspections; Nefertiri Sickout, Deputy Diversity & Inclusion Officer, City of Philadelphia, Mayor’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion.
The City of Philadelphia is a member of the Racial Equity Here (REH) cohort, a national movement of government leaders working to dismantle institutional racism, eliminate racial disparities and improve outcomes for all.
As a part of REH, the City’s Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I) – the city department that enforces safe and lawful construction and use of buildings in accordance with the city’s Building, Fire, Property Maintenance, and Zoning Codes – conducted research analyzing its response time to residential complaints. The Department examined how the difference in response times to complaints about housing quality and blight relates to the racial composition, concentration of poverty, and overall volume and complexity of the complaints in the communities in which the properties are located.
Under this REH project, L&I first collaborated with Philly 311, which operates as a centralized platform where residents can request services, report non-emergency concerns, and obtain information about the city. In February 2017, Philly 311 analyzed all service requests made in calendar year 2016 to determine whether racial disparities were indicated in the types of service requests made and in the response times to those requests.
A preliminary analysis indicated that the closing of service complaint tickets was longer than average regarding “Maintenance Residential (MR)” service requests and “Vacant House (VH)” service requests for residents who live in predominantly minority communities (as defined by zip code data). MR requests include, for example, a leaking roof, overgrown lawn, plumbing or electrical issue, non-functioning door/window, or unsanitary conditions. VH requests concern properties that appear to be vacant, with varying degrees of maintenance issues.
Utilizing this preliminary analysis, L&I then took a more robust and extensive analysis of data contained within its own department to gain insight into whether differences in response times existed based on socio-economic and demographic characteristics of an area.
The goal of the analysis was to: (1) determine the average response time to MR and VH service requests in each of the city’s 380 populated census tracts; (2) identify the census tracts with the longest average response time; and (3) determine what factors may contribute to the longer response time in these census tracts, looking at five specific variables.
L&I utilized the following variables to examine whether, and how, response times may vary: (1) Race; (2) Homeownership; (3) Crime; (4) Poverty; and (5) Service request and inspection volume.
L&I also compared response time data against its’ “service level agreement” (SLA) of 20 business days for all MR and VH requests, a departmental policy that requires inspectors to answer every request within 20 business days of the initial call.
Overall, in 2016, L&I received 37,576 service requests and conducted 105,349 inspections. L&I ultimately examined response times to 16,668 Maintenance Residential service requests, 44 percent of the total requests, and 4,723 Vacant House service requests, 12 percent of the total requests, made in calendar year 2016. Service requests come to L&I through 311, internal referrals, and direct calls and are assigned directly to inspectors based on the property location.
In July 2017, after an extensive four-month analysis, L&I made several findings and recommendations. L&I found that although inspectors answered every request within 20 business days of the initial call (as required under the SLA):
- Residents in certain census tracts consistently see slightly longer response times across all five variables;
- Nine census tracts with the longest response times fall within the top fifth for at least four of the five variables analyzed; and that
- Longer response times cannot be directly attributed to any one factor, so response times should continue to be analyzed across all five variables.
L&I is using the data from its analysis to inform its efforts to identify the staffing levels and field office locations that will best support fair delivery and quality of service to all communities. Policy recommendations, as a result of the analysis, include:
- Use analysis to inform ongoing efforts to realign District boundaries to accommodate two new District offices and 20 new inspectors in late 2017.
- Change existing procedures for periodic reviews of District SLA compliance to consider anticipated volume and the variables identified in this research, in addition to geography or population density, in order to assign and allocate inspector workload.
- Create real-time data model to identify changes in response time in any census tracts, so as to quickly correct workload imbalance that may be slowing response time.
- Conduct further detailed analysis of individual service request types to identify any trends indicating why they have slower average response times.
To watch a detailed power point about the City of Philadelphia’s use of a racial equity toolkit in data analysis, click here.