An April 11 Edmonton City Council meeting about the Problem Properties Initiative Update report resulted in a pilot project, along with other promising motions to deal with problem properties.

The report was to provide updated information on the efforts to address residential and commercial problem properties, the prevalence of these properties, enforcement tools, options to expedite redevelopment, advocacy opportunities, and ways to increase federal resources. 

A group of community members attended the meeting. Community resident Nicola Dakers shares her thoughts.

“This is not a new fight that the community has had. People in the community have been fighting this battle for about 25 years,” Dakers says. But responses from the City had not been promising, first claiming that there were no clauses that allowed them to do something about problem properties. Then in 2018, the provincial government changed the Municipal Government Act to add the clause that allowed the City to address problem properties by demolishing buildings that are detrimental to health, safety, the environment, and the community. 

“But they haven’t. So, they put in the clause and it just sat there. There was no will to move forward to demolish these properties. It was just the continuation of sending fines to the owners,” Dakers says. 

Dakers explains the increase of arson and violence in the last few years has made it tough to stay in the community. But then she became encouraged by Ward Métis Coun. Ashley Salvador. “And I thought, OK, maybe I can try one last time and see if we can get some movement.” 

 At the meeting, Christy Morin, executive director of Arts on the Ave, spoke to council.

“What we are talking about today with problem properties, the word ‘problem’ seems very, very light, compared to what the community of the Alberta Ave district and many different inner-city core communities are experiencing, and also other communities in Edmonton,” explains Morin. She explains incidences of needles, fights, fires, weapons, and shootings at problem properties are not light problems. “These are absolutely horrific problems that a community is living in,” says Morin. 

Morin says neighbours are exhausted and don’t know what to do anymore. She doesn’t know what to tell them.

“This is not a problem. This is an illness in our city.” She adds, “What we need tonight and today is actual teeth to go after them.” 

The report outlines a 90 day pilot project called the Community Property Safety Team Administration to be operational by the end of April. The team will escalate enforcement measures, with the goal of obtaining immediate compliance. They will hold the landowners accountable for vacant and unsecured buildings that pose a fire risk to the community, and if the property owners are not compliant, the Administration will remediate the property and make the property safe at the owner’s cost. 

Numerous speakers were concerned that 90 days isn’t enough time to properly enforce property owners to take action. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi presented a motion to extend the pilot project from 90 days to 18 months. 

“I am hopeful that we are going to be coming out of this with some solid action,” says Salvador. She adds that commercial problem properties are just as destructive as residential problem properties.

Sohi put forward two motions in regards to the report. 

The first motion was to increase the operating budget of the Fire Rescue Services Branch by up to $850,000 on a one-time basis in order to extend the pilot project up to 18 months.

Sohi also suggested increasing the operating budget of the Community Standards and Neighbourhoods Branch by $915,000 on a one-time basis to enhance resources for problem properties. Funding for both would come from the previous police budget, pending full council approval.

“I think one of the most important pieces of this work is, not only directly addressing the problem properties and creating a safer community, but removing that burden from the communities,” says Ward O-day’min Coun. Anne Stevenson. 

This motion was carried 4 to 0.

The second motion was that Administration provide a report outlining options for definitions of derelict residential and non-residential properties to create tax subclasses. This would include a tax subclass for derelict properties, a grant program to redevelop derelict properties, and methodology for monitoring and proving that non-residential derelict properties are unoccupied for at least one year. The motion also included ways to increase the demolition and/or disposition of problem properties, as well as acquisition of properties through tax forfeiture. 

This motion was carried 5 to 0.

“We should have a zero tolerance for problem properties and we should have zero tolerance for slum landlords. And they should know that [the] City will come after them with all means available to the City if they don’t clean up their properties,” says Sohi.

Stephen works in broadcasting and writes for fun.