Elise Stolte: At long last, a possible fix for Edmonton's drug-infested residential eyesores

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It’s a lovely mud hole, or at least better than the misery and chaos here before.

This empty lot at 93 Street and 107 Avenue was for years a typical slum property — gang fights, needles, containers of urine emptied out the windows, piles of mattresses and garbage in the alley. But the beauty now is in the silence, and in the hope this property and other eyesores might finally become something better.

I’m getting my hopes up because it appears Edmonton is finally seeing the seeds of progress on problem properties. Working with Alberta Health Services and the police, city officials saw this house condemned. It went into foreclosure and a new player in town — the Edmonton Community Development Company — bought it with the intent to redevelop starter homes for families.

In fact, the non-profit developer committed to buying 10 derelict sites to start. Supported by professionals working pro bono or at reduced cost, they’re planning duplex and triplex buildings, with two- to three-bedroom units selling for roughly $230,000. Already they bought five properties, remediated and demolished two houses and are hoping to start construction shortly.


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That’s in addition to five derelict properties city officials aim to tackle directly through grants to non-profits for subsidized rental.

If this continues and is combined with a proper enforcement effort — one with teeth — Edmonton might actually have a pathway to figure this out.

These problem properties aren’t just an issue for unlucky neighbours. They can be awful to live in, the crime associated with them is a waste of police resources, and they’re preventing the rejuvenation of key neighbourhoods that would help the city’s bottom line.

But standing on leafy, tree-lined 93 Street one recent morning, the situation certainly looked hopeful. The spot is noisy from the traffic on 107 Avenue, but otherwise a great location with friendly neighbours. It’s walking distance to downtown, Little Italy and several parks.

Mark Davis lived two doors down from the property for 16 years. He describes a multi-storey rooming house slowly falling into ruin with a constant turnover in tenants. Mattresses and clothes were often dumped in the back alley when tenants were kicked out and the space beside the house was filled with needles and human waste.

But the violence connected to the property was worse. During certain years, there were near daily fights with weapons on the street and the police tactical team responded with their tank twice. Once neighbours woke up at 2:30 a.m. to the sound of the police stun grenades. Then the gang Red Alert moved in.


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“That was the same week my first child was born. The day after we brought him home from the hospital, I walked out the door to go to the Italian Centre and there was a member of Red Alert standing at the end of my walkway holding his crotch and giving me the finger,” said Davis. “They were actively trying to drive people from the community.”

The rooming house just north of 107 Avenue on 93 Street often had piles of garbage in the back alley along with needle debris. Photo supplied
The rooming house just north of 107 Avenue on 93 Street often had piles of garbage in the back alley along with needle debris. Photo supplied jpg

Davis, who also works with REACH Edmonton, said things started to change in 2019. Community lobbying prompted council to, once again, request an accounting from the city’s problem property team.

I say once again, because I’ve been reporting on these efforts since 2014 and the issue had been going on long before that. For years, city officials seemed to focus on just getting the right permits in place, rather than actually addressing neighbour complaints. It’s not an easy issue. But they seemed loath to appear heavy-handed or shut sites down, as if any shelter was better than no shelter for people struggling with addictions or recently released from jail.

This time seemed different, said Davis. It’s still early days but when city councillors directed staff to consult with neighbours and come up with a better enforcement plan, city officials seemed to really listen.

Karen Gingras, project manager for the community developer, said redevelopment has not been easy. When she entered the boarded-up property, she found appliances weren’t working and the place was full of drug-cutting equipment. She hired a hazmat team to secure it before cleaners and asbestos removal crews could enter.


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All of that drives up the price, which she needs to keep low if they’re going to sell the units and re-invest the money in the next project. A lawyer, real estate professional and two builders have already stepped up to volunteer time. They’re trying to create a repeatable model to share with other organizations, and attract new homeowners who stay and rebuild the community.

It’s a street where neighbours actually know each other, perhaps because of their common challenge, said Adam Snider, who lives nearby.

Already, kids are back out riding bikes on the street together in the evening, added Anthony Ogbeide, Snider’s neighbour. “It’s really different.”

But it’s a tricky situation. Redevelopment is critical; it’s been a missing piece. But if all anyone does is rebuild on problem sites, it doesn’t stop the cycle. A shady landlord could simply take the money, buy new property and wreak havoc on a different street.

That’s especially true for the City of Edmonton grant, which is only available if the non-profit organization buys a property with a bad history. It’s had good response — four pitches so far for problem properties in four neighbourhoods.

But in a perverse way, it’s an incentive for bad actors to make their properties troublesome. This is only going to work long term if redevelopment is part of a serious enforcement effort. Either a landlord improves the management and maintenance of a property to the point where it no longer impairs a neighbour’s ability to enjoy their property, or they lose the right to run the business. It has to be as simple as that.



Elise Stolte is a columnist for the Edmonton Journal.

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