New task force targets problem properties Residents more enforcement and resolution is needed

Getting resolution to a problem property with issues ongoing for four years is itself a problem.

“There are people dealing drugs out of the house. I’m still calling things in,” said a McCauley resident about a neighbouring rental property. “You call 311 and are told it’s not their department. You spend half the day, who the blazes do you call?”

The Sept. 14 round table discussion focused on problem properties. The meeting was sponsored by Alberta Avenue Revitalization, McCauley Revitalization, Queen Mary Park/Central McDougall Revitalization and Jasper Place Revitalization.

Another barrier for residents is the personal risk in citing a landlord.

“We have our hands tied because we get pulled into court,” said a participant. “We have to deal with this on a consistent basis … and we get threatened by these gangs.”

The discussion forum was set up to hear solutions.

“We want to … hopefully increase people’s repertoire of tools,” Jane Molstad, McCauley Revitalization coordinator, told participants. “We want you to share some tools with us so we come away with some solutions.”

John Lazaruk, team lead with the city’s community standards branch, said residents are part of the solution.

“We need to know where and when they are. You’re going to know better than we do,” Lazaruk said.

Edmonton police, bylaw enforcement, housing, sustainable development and Alberta Health also attended.

A McCauley resident expressed his frustration that the city is still asking for input. He said he expected to see some outcomes or measurements.

“What’s missing to me at this workshop is what the city has done in the last six months. I came here to know what has been accomplished.”

City council set up the problem properties task force last year, spurred by concerns over rundown properties, rentals and rooming houses that create hot spots for crime. The task force takes a collaborative approach, shown to be effective for chronic or long-standing problems. Another change is ticketing on the spot.

“It works when we go out as a team,” said Lazaruk. “Illegal suites, fire code infractions, violating safety code, structural problems. We want it to be a ticket issue right away, not a warrant.”

A team can include representatives from police, Alberta Health, city codes, and residential compliance.

Brent Craig, development compliance supervisor, said ticketing on the spot has changed attitudes of violators.

“Three months ago, we increased fines to $1,000 for the first infraction, right away. It changed our whole method.”

He’s issued about 45 tickets in the last three months.

Rebecca Johnson, environmental health officer, does inspections in poorer neighbourhoods, typically rental housing.

“I feel the task force is going to work, because it puts tools in our toolbox and the right people are now involved. With the team approach, we’re not just piecemealing,” she said.

Participant suggestions included better measurements of outcomes, mapping out strategies for various violations with a corresponding contact for each complaint, and political pressure by calling their MLA or ward councillor.

Adam Millie, Alberta Avenue Community League development director, said he felt the discussion had merit, but the issue with problem properties is far from resolved.

“I think it was well attended, but the city needs to bring stronger enforcement, particularly with respect to repeat offenders.”

He said it appears to still be in the consultation stage.

“Outcomes are what we’d like to see. There are good people, but at the end of the day, properties are not being closed,” said Millie.

Lazaruk is working with 311 to have all calls come through his office. He would also like more authority to enforce.

He asked for patience.

“The coordinated approach to problem properties, they do take time but we’ll be methodical,” he wrapped up. “We will get to them.”

Header Image: Residents talk with John Lazaruk, problem properties task force team lead, at a Sept. 14 workshop. From left to right: Doug Piquette, Claire Gavin, John Lazaruk, Tamie Perry, and Adam Millie. | Kate Wilson

Kate Wilson

Kate took up the reporter's pad and pen while living in northern Alberta. The writing bug stuck, and the next 20 years were spent covering everything from local politics to community happenings. She lives in Alberta Avenue with her daughter.

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