Derelict buildings continue to be an enormous issue for Winnipeg — whether it’s because they go up in flames or house criminal activity.
Although the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is currently undergoing inspections on 30 of the 50 worst derelict properties, police say combating the ongoing problem is costing a significant amount of money and resources.
“We did a deep dive on police costs just in the previous four years in relation to those properties, and found that it’s $1.2 million, conservatively, of police resources,” Staff Sgt. Rob Duttchen told 680 CJOB.
Duttchen said his team has been able to reach 56 per cent of the worst derelict buildings so far.
“As we’re able to demonstrate to our civic leaders and the various departments the benefit of this initiative, I think we’re going to be rewarded for our hard work and for breaking the inertia,” he said.
“I think every time we can collaborate instead of working in silos, we come out further ahead.”
Some building owners, he said, have been responsive in helping with the cleanup, but the “varying degrees of compliance and assistance” is not enough to make a serious impact.
“Would we like more? Yes. Would we enjoy more levers to be able to force owners to engage more meaningfully? Yes.”
Residents of Winnipeg communities impacted by the problem of derelict buildings say they’d like a more permanent solution to the situation as well.
Old Kildonan resident Tracy Ball told Global News that she had been calling the city for months about an abandoned building next door — a building that eventually went up in flames.
“The worry about the house burning down — my worst nightmare — is over for the most part now, (but) nothing’s still been cleaned up,” Ball said.
“Overall it’s trying to navigate what’s next. … I think our city people have to do a lot more work. They have to get on top of not letting it happen to start with, and not making people have to deal with the outcomes of it.”
Ball said she called 311 sometimes multiple times a day about the property being broken into, without a satisfactory response. Now she’s concerned about the building next to the burned-down house, which is also vacant and seeing similar activity.
“The city’s done nothing about the second one either,” Ball said. The community will remain vulnerable to the problem so long as “nobody pays attention,” she added.
Habitat for Humanity Manitoba often turns lots with vacant homes into new buildings full of opportunities for grateful families, but municipal red tape can make that difficult.
Habitat CEO Sandy Hopkins told 680 CJOB that a city by-law means you can’t get a demolition permit unless you have a subsequent building permit, which slows down the entire process.
“We have argued — sometimes successfully, sometimes not — that it’s in the neighbourhood’s best interest to have the old building come down,” Hopkins said. “It is a fire trap, it’s an attraction to kids, it can lead to all kinds of mischief or worse in the neighbourhood.
“Beyond the inconvenience of that and the risk to the neighbourhood, there’s a significant cost, because the owner of the property is expected to keep it safe, which means fencing and boarding and sometimes security.
“It’s all for something you know is going to come down anyway, so from the purchaser’s perspective, it isn’t a sensible and logical bylaw.”
Hopkins said Habitat typically buys the derelict properties, inventories them, and when the group finds a family who wants to live in that area of Winnipeg, it builds a property.
“We want somebody who wants to be there. Typically, we try to situate a family where it makes the most sense for them to be — near their support system, perhaps where they work, where the daycare is, where the schools are.
“Our preference, when we go into one of the neighbourhoods, is to build more than one home — the more we can build in that one area, the better it is for that neighbourhood and the better it is for our families moving into that area.”