Vacant, burned houses in Winnipeg ‘a menace’: community members, advocates

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Vacant, burned houses in Winnipeg ‘a menace’: community members, advocates
Winnipeg community members in the North End are raising concerns over a series of homes that have been attracting what they call illegal activity. As Global's Daisy Woelk reports, advocates and residents want to see change, but there are some barriers – Jun 21, 2024

Winnipeg community members in the city’s north end are raising concerns over four homes that have been attracting, what they identify as illegal activity.

Advocates and residents want to see change, but there are some barriers.

The houses are in the 200 block of Powers Street. Three are on the same lot, while a fourth is separated by a back lane. Each show visible signs of charring, and are in clear disrepair.

An image of one of the currently vacant homes on Powers Street in Winnipeg that caught fire. Randall Paull / Global News

In an emailed statement to Global News, the William Whyte Neighbourhood Association (WWNA), said each went up in flames within the span of five days. A spokesperson with the City of Winnipeg said they believe this happened in April.

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One resident, who will remain anonymous for safety reasons, said when the homes were lived in, some burned more than once.

“They fixed it up and they rented it out. Fire. Then it gets boarded up, fixed up again, rented out, and then another fire,” she said, adding she has had to be evacuated out of her home several times.

“I work from home, and (one day) I heard, like, a pop. I am pretty sure some type of Molotov (cocktail) or something must have been thrown into this house here,” she said.

“I looked out the window at the top of my stairs and saw smoke, and I thought at first one of the tenants who would do open air fires was doing his thing again. Then I take a look through the window in my office — no fire there, but I saw black, billowing smoke just covering the whole side of the property.”

Her reality is one that Darrell Warren, president of the WWNA, told 680 CJOB is not uncommon in the area.

“These homes fall prey to numerous fires. By the time they’ve had their second or third fire, they usually turn into piles of rubble and debris, and they can’t be rehabilitated,” he said.

But now that the homes are boarded up and vacant, the anonymous resident says she has seen people having open fires in the homes’ backyards, which breaks city bylaws.

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Man having open fire in backyard of vacant property. Neighbourhood Submission

Other times, she has seen people sneaking into the homes — like just two weeks ago.

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“Somebody moved one of the boards from the bottom basement window and crawled in there. So, you know, there’s people in there, and I’m not sure if they’re still in there, but they’re getting in there, and there’s no doubt they’re doing drugs,” she said.

Other community members vocalized similar concerns.

“Our community is really struggling with somethings. A lot of addiction. And so, sadly, when there’s that kind of concentration happening in places like this corner… it just ends up attracting a lot of negativity,” said Andrew Reimer.

“We’ve had a friend who overdosed in one of these places, and so now seeing them boarded up is just another step in seeing that trend on this corner,” he said.

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Kent Dueck, executive director of Inner City Youth Alive (ICYA), believes the houses are hubs for criminal activity.

Kent Dueck stands outside of a vacant, burned home on Powers Street in Winnipeg. Randall Paull / Global News

“You have good community members, working with us and telling us, ‘OK, there’s drug deals going on in there. There’s this house on the corner here were they were putting … stuff that had been stolen. They were stashing there,'” he said, noting he has been in one of the homes and identified stolen goods himself.

Dueck says he’s had his eyes on the lot hosting three of the homes for about a decade, and wants to purchase it and make it into affordable housing, which Warren said could help.

“The answer is, let’s clean them up. Let’s get some builders in that will do infill housing and get them in there and build some new homes and get some new families in there.”

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However, Dueck said it feels impossible with city permitting processes and a lack of cooperation from the property owner.

“It’s going to take us two years for us to get permits to tear this down so we don’t have to stare at this thing. And then if we’re going to try to do something about it, it’s going to be a flat and lot, and it’s going to take us 10 years to get a permit to build a house when we need housing in our city,” he said.

ICYA’s Step Up Construction program has bought two lots on Magnus Avenue for a similar project.

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Step Up Construction

“Boy is it hard to get through city permitting,” Dueck said, “It’s like it’s almost bent against the community.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson with the City of Winnipeg said, “We are currently reviewing City processes and exploring all avenues available to us to prevent lengthy demolitions from occurring and to expedite the remediation process. Part of this is finding ways to hold non-compliant property owners more accountable and to speed-up the remediation of these sites.”

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Winnipeg city councillor for the area, Ross Eadie, said it is the property owner’s responsibility to clean and renovate the homes, but when they’re vacant, it’s hard to get the money to do so — and harder to start from scratch.

“There’s a huge cost to chop that, take it out. Or maybe the foundation is good and we could build on it. But the thing is, nobody’s got money to build on it. And, actually, nobody wants to build a brand-new house in William Whyte, which is really bad, right?” Eadie said.

He added that he and another councillor are trying to move a motion to revitalize the area.

“Everything is in such decay. Like yeah, we do have to worry about downtown, but we also have to worry about the rest of the inner city. It’s just awful,” he said.

Global News reached out to the property owner for comment, but they declined.

The anonymous resident urges change to happen soon.

“Every day these houses stand, they are a menace. I’ve already requested to have these properties put on the vacant registry list now that all three are vacant, and I’ve been in contact with my councillor about demolishing,” she said.

There’s a lot of families raising their kids here,” Reimer said. “They want their kids to be able to just grow up in a place that’s safe and where there’s hope.”

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Click to play video: 'Property owners of derelict buildings challenging city bylaw'
Property owners of derelict buildings challenging city bylaw

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