On Aug. 26, the Tamarack Institute hosted a free webinar about Project 10, an Edmonton-based community renewal initiative. 

Participants tuned in from across the globe, hailing everywhere from Australia, to Kenya, and Norway to learn about transforming derelict properties into opportunities for community growth. 

The Edmonton Community Development Company (ECDC) started Project 10 as an initiative to purchase 10 problem properties in the McCauley and Alberta Avenue areas and transform them into neighbourhood assets. Properties are demolished or redeveloped to create housing and encourage families to move into the neighbourhoods. 

So far, ECDC has purchased seven houses and plans to begin construction on some of the properties later this year. 

“Our mission is to engage and collaborate with urban core neighbourhoods and to understand their needs and aspirations and to build community capacity to further their economic and social development,” says Karen Gingras, the interim executive director of ECDC. “The vision, of course, is [to help] neighbourhood residents and stakeholders influence their communities’ future… so they can actually improve their quality of life socially, economically, and have sustainable and attractive communities.” 

The organization has a database of problem properties throughout the city that help them understand the scope of the problem and inform their purchases. There are currently 190 mapped properties.

When Gingras started working with ECDC, she was taken aback by the impact derelict homes had on communities. “I learned… about the challenge of having neighbours party all night and drop bags of drugs in their neighbours’ backyards, among other things,” says Gingras. 

Alberta Avenue and McCauley have the highest concentration of problem properties across the city and “these neighbourhoods have also experienced many, many families leaving. So even though the city as a whole has grown… these [neighbourhoods] have experienced [an] exodus that resulted in school closure, that resulted in an entrenchment of homes that are not being redeveloped… and disinvestment.” 

“As ECDC, this is right up our alley to address this disinvestment,” Gingras says.  

But the learning curve has been steep. 

The first property ECDC bought was a foreclosure that had to be purchased sight unseen. Developers hired a hazmat team to search the house for asbestos and lead, but instead the team discovered drug paraphernalia all over the house and were required to bring in a drug identification team. 

“This is an example of the complexity of working in the core neighbourhoods because instead of just looking for… asbestos and lead, we end up having to consider biological waste, drugs, syringes, all of the things that up the cost of the work we do, that you won’t find when you’re going into some older neighbourhoods that don’t have as many derelict properties,” says Gingras. 

ECDC also purchased a strip mall in McCauley which was a centre of illicit activity. Through an investment co-op, organizers were able to raise $1.1 million in six weeks to purchase the property. Most of the funds came from the neighbourhood itself, and the hope is to turn the property into a thriving community hub. 

Gingras’ goal for the near future is to pre-sell homes in development and continue expanding the project so 20 or more houses can be bought and redeveloped. All the homes will be sold at or below market value.