UPDATE: April 19, 2022 - City Council approved the recommendations from Community and Public Services Committee (see below) to fund the Community Property Safety Team as well as dedicate resources for coordination between stakeholders.
April 11, 2022 - Today, Community and Public Services Committee initiated a significantly more aggressive approach to addressing problem properties. Vacant and derelict properties are contributing to significant fire risk, crime, and unsafe conditions in our neighbourhoods, and today committee recommended to council that we increase resources towards this issue so that we can take a stronger approach.
This issue has reached a boiling point, and it’s time for council to use all of the tools in our toolbox to address it. It has been difficult to hear from community members who have been enduring the anguish of living near these decaying properties for years, and helplessly observing the deterioration of their experience living in these neighbourhoods. I am confident that the City of Edmonton has the power, authority, and willpower to take a bold approach and make a real difference. I am eager to see us allocate resources and effort to this work.
Costs to Our Communities
These properties contribute to dramatic direct and indirect costs - social, emotional, and economic. A case study of just 31 properties showed over $1M in costs, including calls for services from EPS, bylaw, fire suppression, unpaid taxes, development compliance, and safety codes. The Residential Inspection Safety Compliance team identified 486 properties, and the Edmonton Community Development Company another 250 properties, many of which are in Ward Métis. I can not stress enough the real financial costs borne by the city through inaction.
Not only are we aware that there are significant direct costs associated with derelict and vacant properties, the cries for help from community members serve to underline the social and emotional costs associated with this issue. There is no accounting for lost sleep wondering if the abandoned home next door will catch fire again next week. I’ve spoken with so many community-minded Edmontonians who live in these neighbourhoods whose time shouldn’t have to be spent like this. I wish their organizing efforts, time, and emotional labor could be put towards organizing block parties and fun community events, but instead, in many ways, they have been brought together over crisis and ongoing, chronic trauma.
The financial rationale alone for taking action is very compelling, but taken alongside the social costs, there is a powerful case to be made about the return on investment we will achieve by resolving this issue.
Today’s discussion signalled council’s intention to exercise powers that have never been deployed to this extent before, but have been deployed to great success in other jurisdictions, such as Surrey, namely the introduction of the Community Property Safety Team.
Community Property Safety Team
The introduction of a Community Property Safety team will allow for additional enforcement measures with the goal of gaining immediate compliance at these buildings of concern, with escalating security measures.
This team will be responsible for securing and holding landowners accountable for vacant and unsecured buildings (residential and non-residential) that pose a fire risk to the surrounding community. If the property owners are not compliant, Administration will pursue remedial action to make these properties safe at the property owners’ cost. Committee recommended to council that up to $850,000 be put towards to Community Property Safety Team.
There will be information about how to inform this team about the presence of a problem property in the coming weeks. Edmonton Fire Rescue Services is aware that community members are well positioned to provide valuable information about nearby properties, and will be an active partner in the property identification process.
This problem can not be dealt with off the side of people’s desks. We need to properly resource this work to see the outcomes we desire. A higher degree of coordination and strategy is required to align the work of various agencies and departments who all touch problem properties.
Committee recommended to council that $915,000 be put towards enhancing dedicated resources for problem properties, including centralized coordination. This will ensure the multi-stakeholder work being done by Community Standards, Safety Codes, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, Social Development, Alberta Health Services, Edmonton Police Services, community, and others is better coordinated.
I am confident that the holistic and coordinated approach we have developed will deliver results for our communities, and help restore stability and order in deeply affected neighbourhoods. Citywide, we will see a benefit as we reduce the costs associated with these properties.
Demolition and Property Tax Subclasses
Beyond implementing the community property safety team and providing dedicated resources for problem properties work, the motion presented at committee also included exploring a stronger approach to having properties be demolished, as well as using property tax subclasses to keep owners accountable for their properties. In August, council will be getting a report back on options related to demolition and/or disposition of problem properties, as well as options for creating tax subclasses for derelict residential and non-residential problem properties.
We have full authority to take these bold steps and I believe community expects us to. We simply can not let this continue, and we must be swift and decisive in our approach. I expect to see bold action, and I believe the motions recommended up to council provide the resources to do that.
Even if we start today, it is going to take time to get rolling, and in that time there are costs - costs to Edmontonians, to community members living near these properties, to vulnerable and marginalized Edmontonains who are being exploited and harmed, and to our front line workers and emergency responders who are placed at significant risk when responding to calls at these sites. We heard from community today about the urgency with which we must act, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Written by: Ashley Salvador