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New software tool aims to help small Allegheny County municipalities fight blight

Trash lies in an overgrown empty lot.
Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Trash in a yard. Gutters falling off a house. Holes in a roof.

These eyesores and more get the attention of Alex Coyne, a code enforcement officer at the Turtle Creek Valley Council of Governments, a group of local governments in the county’s eastern suburbs.

Coyne and his colleagues at the council of government are championing a new, blight-fighting code enforcement tool to help them in their effort: a new software system they’ve built from scratch, called CodeNForce. And they’re hoping to grow the tool to other area communities.

The software is being beta-tested in several Eastern suburbs now including Wilkins Township, North Braddock, Glassport, Munhall, Chalfant, and East McKeesport, said Amanda Settelmaier, executive director of the Turtle Creek Valley COG. The nonprofit council of governments, or COG, aims to encourage municipalities to collaborate and share services.

CodeNForce “does make my day-to-day job much easier,” Coyne said.

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CodeNForce came about after years of work by Settelmaier and others trying to fight blight in communities that often are short on money and manpower. A2013 study focused on parts of Allegheny County found blighted and vacant properties are harmful and costly for communities and residents.

“Our towns with more capacity use systems because they are very helpful when you're trying to provide good code enforcement service. Our smaller towns did not have that. And so that's what really got us started on the road to trying to create a system,” Settelmaier said. Early on, the group was also aided by Bob Gradeck and a team of Carnegie Mellon University students who were able to make recommendations; the system was then built by code enforcement officers, Settelmaier said.

Chad Hoover, council president in the borough of Chalfont, said the system has been very helpful for his community.

“Who owns it, where they are,” Hoover said. “Is there a manager for this property that's local or is a landlord local? Some background on okay, we've had violations on these properties for this, this, this, this in the past and this is how some of them ended up being. … All that information is pretty much at our fingertips.”

In addition to being paperless and easy to use, CodeNForce allows the municipalities using it to easily track and share data about individual property owners. This makes it harder for bad actors to avoid enforcement by hopping across municipal lines, which is key because of the region’s fragmented municipalities, backers of the system say.

It’s also why Settelmaier is hoping to grow the number of communities using CodeNForce — it becomes more useful with more users.

There will be a cost for municipalities, Settelmaier said, but it’s still unclear what it will be. The COG is hoping to receive a state planning grant to evaluate this further, she said.

“The goal is to remove cost as a barrier,” she said.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.