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Binghamton employs drones to get new view of vacant, blighted properties

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—The City of Binghamton will use drone footage to inspect several vacant and blighted properties.

Jonathan Westgate, a vacant property inspector for the city, said roofs throughout the city have collapsed in cases where inspectors could not catch deterioration early enough.

The roofs of vacant properties, or those with persistent problems, may not be safe for code enforcement officers to safely climb up on and inspect. Because of that, officers can often only get a ground-level view.

“So we don't know what's going on on the top of the building, such as if the roof is collapsing, or if there's water coming in through there,” Westgate explained.

Buffalo-based tech producer EagleHawk will fly its drones over 17 vacant sites in the city to capture footage of their roofs.

Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham said doing so will reduce the time and money needed to safely inspect the properties, and help the city enforce code violations.

“It's one way that we're investing again, as I said, in the fight for neighborhoods,” Kraham continued, “and to have a clearer picture of our vacant properties, the issues that they have, and be able to more quickly respond when issues arise.”

Kraham said some of the properties to be inspected have been cited for persistent code violations.

He proposed a series of code enforcement reforms earlier this month to address landlords with multiple code offenses. They include a new attorney position to prosecute landlords with persistent code violations and a measure to restrict the height of grass on lawns. Kraham said this will allow for citations to be issued more quickly when properties are not maintained, especially for repeat offenders.

While local housing advocates have repeatedly called the measures weak, the Binghamton City Council passed both measures without much discussion during its meeting on Wednesday.

The city will use close to $10,000 to fund the drone project, provided by the New York Attorney General’s Office. The city received $500,000 as part of the attorney general’s Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement, or RISE, initiative in 2020.