The demolition of ten problem properties
By Erica Marie
The Edmonton Community Development Company (ECDC) has successfully reached their goal of 10 problem properties for their Project 10 initiative.
Anna Bubel, a long-time resident of McCauley and researcher for ECDC, assisted in acquiring these properties through community networking. She learned about a deal that didn’t go through in Parkdale a couple of years ago, and the house was left abandoned. With some investigation and persistence, this became the organization’s ninth property. The last property acquired had been on ECDC’s radar and when it listed on MLS, an offer was made and accepted.
A Community Development Corporation is a non-profit company involved in the revitalization of neighbourhoods. The scope of these organizations can vary from affordable housing to education and social services. However, the core purpose of these non-profits is to engage in initiatives that center around the community residents’ aspirations – thus began Project 10.
In 2018, through conversations with the McCauley and Alberta Avenue community members, ECDC discovered derelict properties were their most significant pain point. Neighbours were exposed to drug activities, risk of fires, and decreased property values. This caused residents to leave the community, creating further neighbourhood disinvestment.
The ECDC decided to make Project 10 a priority and started a database to record the number of problem properties in the city. They would soon find that purchasing these properties was not an easy task as they encountered challenges during both the acquisition and demolition phase.
Acquiring Problem Properties
Properties rarely come on sale in the open market. Bubel said, “Acquisition has been difficult. There are hundreds of potential inventories that are not listed, so it’s not a straightforward process.” Some owners hold on to their property, thinking it will increase in value, leaving it abandoned for many years. There are also circumstances where major repairs are needed to make the property livable, but it is too expensive, so they sit there abandoned for years.
Demolishing Problem Properties
The ECDC’s first purchase revealed the complexities of demolishing a property. The property was a Court of Queen’s Bench foreclosure, which means no inspection occurs, and the property is sold as-is. Karen Gingras, Executive Director of ECDC, initially contracted a Hazmat assessment company to check for asbestos and lead. To their surprise, it would be a more dangerous endeavor as they discovered drugs, needles, biological waste and highly volatile chemicals inside the house. The organization had to hire a team that was knowledgeable in handling these materials and understood the risks to their safety. All of this came at a cost, making the demolition process a challenge.
A Stronger Approach
Project 10 was a proof of concept for ECDC. As the organization began to understand the scope of problem properties and the socio-economic costs on the city’s resources and its residents, they recognized the urgency of their revitalization efforts. Bubel says, “we cannot stop with ten properties; we need to be relentless with getting these properties torn down.” Ten properties are just the beginning.
Firefighters are on scene at a house located on 119 Avenue and 78 Street in Edmonton. Photo courtesy of CTV News Edmonton
Four people died in fires inside boarded-up buildings last year due to problem properties. The community members are demanding a stronger approach from the city.
In a recent Community and Public Services Committee meeting, committee members extended the Community Property Safety Team pilot project to 18 months. This will give the team time to identify the impacts of enforcing immediate compliance and holding the owners of these properties accountable. If the City doesn’t create financial disincentives to hold these properties, we will continue to see abandoned properties posing health and safety risks to the neighbourhood.
Hope for Revitalization
Seeing a derelict property torn down gives the residents in core neighbourhoods hope for a vibrant future. There is a lot of work to be done between purchasing, demolition, and selling a property. The drawn-out process can make it feel like change is out of reach. However, it was a moment to celebrate during a recent walk-through of the first ECDC property that will soon be ready for market. Bubel says, “I’m really proud. I know this really makes a difference.”
3D Rendering of 9316 109 Avenue, Edmonton. For Sale June 2022