The voices of those significantly impacted by problem properties
By Erica Marie
With their cry for help comes a sense of optimism. Alberta Avenue and McCauley residents spoke out at the community and public services committee meeting on the trauma and hardships neighbours face due to problem properties. Calling it a problem seems too light of a description compared to the reality these residents are living through.
Christy Morin, Executive Director of Arts on the Ave and a long-time resident of Alberta Avenue, said, “this is not a problem; this is an illness in our city.”
Problem properties are properties that have a significant detrimental impact on the surrounding houses, such as property deterioration and noise violations. It can also include properties that pose safety risks to the nearby residents due to illegal activities and public health violations.
Many residents echoed Ms. Morin’s call for change. They are demanding urgency from the city to help address these problem properties. There are numerous houses that are still boarded up and haven’t changed for years. A testimony from a neighbour who has a problem property on her block said there are garbage, needles, and people sleeping on the driveway of these properties. They also expressed concerns about the number of fires derived from abandoned properties.
Property #5 acquired by ECDC
“We want demolition of these properties,” Erick Estrada, Treasurer of the Alberta Avenue Community League, said at the meeting. Residents are afraid of going backwards and more people leaving their neighbourhood. It is not enough to paint over houses, change the locks, or fix the windows. These issues require the city to aggressively and consistently enforce bylaws against these problem landlords who are collecting rent and playing host to gangs and violence in the community.
Karen Gingras, Executive Director of the Edmonton Community Development Company (ECDC), presented the social and economic costs of problem properties. In 2018,
the organization started a database of problem properties which led to the launch of Project 10. This initiative involves tearing down ten derelict or problem properties and building homes for families to purchase below market value.
Read more on Project 10 here.
Community members want to be able to take their children outside without worrying about their safety. They need help in protecting vulnerable neighbours who have been suffering from the effects of being exposed to crime and violence for many years.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi hears their call and shares in their frustration. “We should have zero tolerance for slum landlords. We should do everything we can to shut them down.”
The Community Property Safety Team is one of the measures brought forward by the council and will have a budget of $850,000 for 18 months. “The intention of this team is to ensure unsecured properties are brought to compliance immediately,” said Ashley Salvador, councillor for Ward Métis. They want to enforce accountability to landowners and eliminate fire risk to the surrounding properties.
Another outcome of the community and public services committee meeting is the allocation of $915,000 to the operating budget for the Community Standards and Neighbourhoods branch to enhance resources for problem properties.
The communities of Alberta Avenue and McCauley are made up of amazing people volunteering their time and taking the initiative to look out for one another. They deserve a safer neighbourhood. “This is one of the reasons why we love the community that we live in. We’ve got people here who are truly committed. We are community and neighbourhood builders,” explains an Alberta Avenue resident.
It is time the community members’ voices are heard and taken seriously. They are hopeful about the initiatives the council is introducing but are aware of the difficult road ahead. Christy Morin knows that revitalization can turn a neighbourhood around. She says the proof is in the transformation in other areas of the city, such as 124 street and Old Strathcona. “These communities used to be filled with used car lots and pawn shops but are now places of interest and attraction.”
Since 2018, the city has identified 486 problem properties. The ECDC is eager to bring those numbers down by anchoring investments in Alberta Avenue and McCauley with their Project 10 strategy. They would love to take this project to the next level and see this initiative go onward to Project 40 and beyond.