Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sad story of an underpass and a home lost

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Steve Miloica stands near the vacant lot  where his home was once located.


Steve Miloica stands near the vacant lot where his home was once located. Photo Store

There's a reason they say there is no place like home.

Our homes gives us shelter, security, a degree of privacy and maybe even a sense of pride.

So imagine how it would feel if the city came knocking at the door one day wanting to knock down your home right to its foundation.

The process is known as expropriation, and in this case it involved three Transcona houses that were standing in the path of the long-delayed construction of the Plessis Road Underpass.

Actually, as it happened, one of the houses -- a recently built 1,400-square-foot bungalow at 1064 Plessis Rd. -- was standing in the way more than the others. It belonged to 76-year-old Steve Miloica, and it was built just four years ago.

Which is why Steve wanted to have it moved to West St. Paul, where he also owns a piece of property.

When I met last week with Steve, he told me he owns more property he's hoping to sell, but nothing like the house that was his home on Plessis Road. As he related the story of how he lost his house, he became confused at times and opened his appointment diary to confirm dates.

"You have to forgive me," he said at one point. "My brain don't work so good."

But his story was basically consistent, and there are lawyers and a paper trail that backs it up. For example, more than a year ago, on May 16, 2013, Steve's lawyer at the time, Ron Zimmerman, wrote the city and said his client wanted his house relocated.

That's not an unreasonable request.

A house for a house is the mantra of provincial expropriation legislation, and what could be fairer than the same house for a house? Of course, there are other considerations -- such as a tight construction schedule.

On May 22, 2013, the city representative, Karen Cann, responded to the request to move Steve's house.

"Due to the timing of this project, it would not be possible for the house to be moved in time for construction to commence in September."

Not enough time?

There was a four-month window. Then, over time, that four-month window opened wider and wider.

Construction didn't start on schedule in September 2013. Something had been missed in the planning.

Now, two buried oil pipelines were standing in the construction path in a different way, and they definitely had to be moved. So, a year after having his first bid to have his house moved -- and with construction still delayed -- Steve contacted another lawyer. The city had allowed Steve to stay in his house longer than they wanted. And finally, in early July -- after negotiating the sale of the house and property and an initial down payment of $300,000 -- his new lawyer, Chuck Chappell, phoned the city with a plea. Steve still wanted to move his house. Could he buy the bungalow back from the city and move it?

The short answer was 'no' and again for the same reason.

There wasn't enough time.

The longer explanation arrived in an email sent July 9 by a member of the city's real estate division.

"In the past, the city discussed this issue with your client (through its solicitor at the time) and was advised that if he wanted to keep the house and relocate, it would be at his cost and effort and if the house was removed, the city would only be prepared to offer compensation for the land only. Your client advised that he wanted full compensation for both the land and building; he would then relocate the house and if I recall correctly he wanted the city to compensate him for the relocation costs. For obvious reasons, your client was advised that this was unacceptable to the city."

The house was scheduled to be demolished the following week, and it was.

If the city employee's recall is correct, it doesn't fully match that of Steve's first lawyer, or the paperwork that goes with it. In the letter from back in May 2013, his lawyer at the time, Zimmerman, wrote his client only wanted the city to pay for his lot and "incidental expenses." There was no mention of expecting the city to pay for the house or its relocation.

Where is Steve living now? In a motel.

Which leaves me wondering something. Was the city's treatment of Steve heartless or was its judgment simply hopeless? Either way, Steve Miloica is homeless.

And I'm left to wonder something else.

If this 76-year-old man, whose "brain don't work so good," had been the father of someone in the city's real estate division, how would he been treated? I mean, would he have been seen more as a person and his house more as a home? Would he be living happily in a relocated home in West St. Paul, instead of wondering who's going to pay his motel bill?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 29, 2014 B1

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