Council promises to announce an action plan in March 2020
On Oct. 29, community members attended a meeting at city hall with the Urban Planning Committee. Concerned citizens included Alberta Avenue resident Virginia Potkins and local resident Rickshaw Dave, who lives next door to a notorious landlord’s property.
Community members addressed safety concerns and frustrations. Many are worried that residents in the affected communities will start to leave because they are afraid in their own homes. Potkins says, “Being scared to go out in your front yard or walk out of your house at any time is ridiculous.”
Speakers also pressed the committee to explain why, when there is a task force in place dedicated to solving the issue, problem properties still take a long time to shut down and eradicate.
Coun. Scott McKeen put forth a promise of accountability by the City to have an action plan in place by March 2020. Potkins says, “[March 2020 is] certainly a lot longer than I would have wanted—but there is hope.”
Potkins explains the task force has been in place since approximately 2008 and is intended to deal with issues in a “timely manner.” Potkins says, “I thought it would take a few months, not 13 years. Thirteen years is not timely.”
Potkins also observes that the task force does not seem to have a solid process in place. When speakers and city council members asked specific, sometimes pointed questions, members of the task force did not seem to have clear answers, if any. They could not provide statistics such as how many problem properties there are, how many have been shut down, and for how long.
Task force members also could not explain why the process of shutting down a problem property takes so long. One property in Alberta Ave, commonly known as The Castle, has been a problem for 13 years. Recently the City said that they were going to reinforce all access points to the house so that no one could resume squatting and using the property. The request was made six weeks ago; to date, there has been no action on the property.
Another part of the problem is the lack of accountability for property owners, especially absentee landlords who neglect their properties.
One suggestion to enforce accountability is to add any costs that these problem properties create to the property owner’s tax roll. Potkins points out, “[Landlords] have walked away from their properties and walked away from their responsibilities. I believe that if they can’t look after [their properties], then they should sell them.” The costs incurred relate to things like having the City clean up damages and calling first responders.
In the meantime, Dave reports that the same night of the meeting, someone slashed the tires of one of his vehicles at home. Since then, he’s had a total of four tires slashed on two vehicles. “I don’t know,” he says, “but I think it was related.” Following my interview with him, he told me that three more were slashed on his truck.
The story of problem properties and their landlords is dark and complex in central Edmonton. The community waits for city hall to step up. Perhaps the time is coming this March.
Coun. Tony Caterina was contacted for a comment, but he did not respond.
Featured Image: Recently, one landlord’s home was devastated by fire. Its rubble lies next to two other problem properties, alleged to belong to the same landlord. | Tekla Luchenski