Councillor seeks to speed up demolition of vacant, derelict buildings


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A new effort to get vacant and derelict buildings torn down quicker is winding its way through city hall, a task that could require changes beyond the municipal government.

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A new effort to get vacant and derelict buildings torn down quicker is winding its way through city hall, a task that could require changes beyond the municipal government.

Coun. Cindy Gilroy raised a motion Friday that directs city staff to shorten the length of time between when a city demolition permit application is filed and when a building and/or debris can actually be removed. Her motion also directs city staff to work with external stakeholders, including other levels of government, that may also cause delays.

“We have a lot of unhoused people and they are going into those sites. It’s not safe for them and it’s also not safe for the neighbouring community that has half a building left that’s been on fire and… lots of debris that can easily be caught on fire again. It’s not fair that the community is sitting right beside a pile of rubble. It makes (the area) unsightly and makes it feel unsafe,” the Daniel McIntyre councillor said.

Gilroy said her motion was partly inspired by 694 Sherbrook St., where a massive pile of rubble remains after a vacant apartment block burned down in February. Its neighbours say the site has been an unsightly safety hazard for months, while the empty building often attracted squatters before it burned down.

Speeding up the timeline to get buildings and rubble removed is needed, Gilroy said, noting it can take six months or more to get a property cleared away after a demolition application. She also hopes some intact structures can be transformed into affordable housing.

“Some of these buildings are sitting empty when they can be used,” she said.

In a few recent cases, the city has faced long waits to get clearance for demolitions from Manitoba Hydro, a key reason why she wants to involve third parties, Gilroy said.

In a brief written statement, a Manitoba Hydro spokesman said the Crown corporation is open to working on the issue.

“We certainly understand Coun. Gilroy’s concerns and the frustration of her constituents with derelict buildings… We’re currently in discussions with the city on how we can both revamp our processes to improve communication to remove unsafe, derelict buildings more quickly,” spokesperson Bruce Owen said in an emailed statement.

There are now at least 652 vacant buildings in Winnipeg, including 499 residential properties and 153 commercial ones, city spokesman Adam Campbell said in an email.

While the demolition permit process can typically be completed in less than six months, the timeline for each project can vary depending on the reason for demolition and the state of the structure, Campbell added.

An approved building permit is required to obtain a demolition permit for all residential properties unless a building is declared unsafe through a public hearing.

Gilroy’s motion was welcomed by a key advocate for those experiencing homelessness.

“(For) those (empty buildings)… it’s not doing anybody any favour by allowing them to sit vacant. I’ve observed directly the dangers that it presents. Just last week, a property just across from 190 Disraeli went up in flames and that could have been prevented,” said Jason Whitford, chief executive officer of End Homelessness Winnipeg.

The properties could create space for low-income, transitional housing units, which are desperately needed, Whitford said.

“We probably need 1,800 to 2,000 housing units over the next two to three years to have an impact on homelessness,” he said.

Coun. John Orlikow supported Gilroy’s motion during Friday’s city centre community committee meeting, while the committee’s other member, Coun. Sherri Rollins, was absent.

“Some pretty sad things happen in these buildings and it becomes very dangerous. For example, people having open fires in them. It’s an accident, in some cases a very tragic accident, waiting to happen,” said Orlikow.

However, he stressed the city must also ensure it doesn’t wind up with an abundance of empty properties by making buildings too easy to demolish.

“We still want (land owners) to build. We don’t want these lots empty forever,” said Orlikow.

The motion still requires approval from council’s property and development committee.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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