On Dec 6, city council unanimously voted in a new motion about problem properties brought forth by Ward Métis Coun. Ashley Salvador.
The Problem Properties Initiative Update means that city administration will provide information on how pervasive the issue is and what’s being done about it, other enforcement methods such as tax subclasses, ways to speed up property redevelopment, and possible federal resources related to underlying causes of these properties, along with opportunities to impact provincial legislation.
Salvador said she brought forth this motion because of the countless concerns she’s heard while campaigning and while she has been in office. She added that Edmontonians are concerned about the toll derelict properties are taking on the health and safety of community members.
“We actually need to know how many there are, where exactly they are, so that we can properly address the issue,” Salvador said. “[The motion] also looks to explore other tools that are in our tool belt for addressing them.”
Savaldor says she believes they haven’t looked at every single tool within their belt.
“I think that there’s real action that can come out of this motion, which is why I wanted to bring it forward very quickly,” Salvador told me.
During council, Salvador emphasized that problem properties are a symptom of a lack of affordable housing. Salvador said that in the long term, city council will need to look at providing safe and adequate housing.
“I do know that there’s a lot of concerns around new homes being built that might not necessarily be up to snuff and to standard,” Salvador told me. “On the enforcement side, making sure that the homes that are being built in these communities are safe and we’re building what’s written down on paper.”
Ward papastew Coun. Michael Janz was enthusiastic about this motion. Janz said there are concerns around snow removal and mosquito nests in vacant properties. Janz also challenged Salvador’s notion that the cause of problem properties is a lack of affordable housing.
“It seems in some cases in my area, the cause of problem properties [is] greed,” Janz said during the council meeting. “It’s land speculators sitting on property and not wanting to do anything for a decade.”
Salvador said her intention was to keep the scope of the motion wide so they can explore a spectrum of options, such as the use of tax classes.
“If we’re able to apply different tax classes to vacant and derelict sites, it can actually encourage and incentivize the sale and redevelopment of them, so that they don’t just sit there kind of boarded up in our neighbourhoods,” Salvador explained during the interview. “They can actually turn into properties that are actually going to serve the neighbourhood, bring value to the community, and uplift the area.”
Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack says he believes regardless of the results of this motion, a new tax subclass for vacant and derelict properties is needed.
“There should be financial penalties for these properties for not taking care of what they need to,” Knack said during the meeting. “We shouldn’t keep having to spend more money of our own on enforcement; let’s penalize those who are doing it.”
Ward O-day’min Coun. Anne Stevenson agreed that vacant and derelict sites are issues in her ward as well. Stevenson notes there are concerns from adjacent neighbours surrounding enforcement of flagging and following up on these properties and looks forward to coming up with a strategy to lessen the burden on community members.
Salvador said applying financial pressure to property owners or landlords who refuse to give up problem properties is one option.
“I think it takes a certain level of political will to follow through on some of those actions,” Salvador said.