Edmonton city council announced Saturday a pilot project aimed at securing derelict houses has become permanent.
Residents along the Alberta Avenue area say “problem properties” have been an issue for years.
Abandoned properties attracted squatters and posed a security and fire risk according to the city, prompting the creation of the Community Property Safety Team (CPST) and allowing fire crews to proactively enter problem homes.
“A vacant building poses significant risks, not just in terms of safety but also as a potential hazard for the community,” mayor Amarjeet Sohi said in a statement.
“The CPST’s proactive efforts have yielded promising results. This permanent funding affirms the City’s commitment to community safety as we build on the overwhelming success of the CPST team,” Sohi stated.
From April 2022 to September 2023, the CPST investigated nearly 600 homes. Out of those homes, the team secured 320 properties and demolished more than 100.
Fire Chief Joe Zatylny said fires have gone down by 31 per cent in targetted neighbourhoods such as Alberta Avenue and downtown Edmonton.
“The pilot phase of the Community Property Safety Team demonstrated the effectiveness of the initiative in addressing safety concerns with unsecured vacant properties, ” Zatylny said. “Now that CPST is a permanent program, we will see more of these positive outcomes and the team will continue to contribute to the overall safety of Edmontians and our community as a whole.”
To tackle the problem further, Métis Ward city councillor Ashley Salvador announced that homes categorized as derelict will be hit with three times the residential tax rate beginning in January.
“Using financial tools and taxation as another mechanism to incentivize either the demolition or the redevelopment of those properties, can help accelerate that process,” Salvador said at a press conference Saturday morning.
Community advocates say they’ve noticed a drop in crime since the pilot project began, and are grateful to Edmonton city council and Edmonton Fire for approving permanent funding.
Arts on the Ave Executive Director Christy Morris has lived in the neighbourhood for more than 30 years.
“When you live next door to a problem property, it is nothing but angst, fear, no sleep and it really plays on your mental health,” she explained. “It’s like having a rotten decaying piece of community, so being able to remove that helps,” she added.
Morris hopes once all residential homes are assessed, the program can be expanded to include derelict businesses.
“The residential properties are getting that really great attention that we need and so now the commercial properties need that same attention, that same target,” she explained.
The Alberta Avenue Business Association said this is a great step towards replenishing the neighbourhood. Executive Director Erick Estrada said he noticed fewer fires and the area becoming more clean in the past year.
“This is great momentum. The community is united. There is a great opportunity to continue improving the area,” he explained. “Just improving the social fabric right? Financing more groups that can bring activities and have culturally unique groups that can do more activities in the area,” he added.