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Officials say problem property program a 'success'

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A pilot project dealing with problem properties in Edmonton has been made permanent due to its success.

The Community Property Safety Team has been given new funding to expand and tackle derelict properties posing a risk in their communities.

The team secures vacant buildings and abandoned homes that pose a fire risk to the community and uses fire code and municipal codes to hold the landowners accountable.

Officials announced the new funding Saturday in Cromdale near two abandoned homes. Neighbour Michelle Smith said fires are just one of the problems plaguing the properties.

"We’ve seen overdoses, we’ve seen drug activity, drug use. My children don't use their backyard, they don't use their tree house because they could see over the fences," she added. "It's been a constant battle for eight years."

Properties like the ones in Smith's neighbourhood are precisely what the Community Property Safety Team (CPST) was created to deal with.

"This project was undertaken after two community members died and one of our firefighters was put at significant risk in a vacant property," said Edmonton Fire Chief Joe Zatylny.

Since the pilot launched in 2022, the team has inspected 593 properties, secured 320 properties and issued almost 295 enforcement orders.

"Further to that, 111 properties have been demolished after CPST interactions and orders with 18 properties already redeveloped," said Ward Métis Coun. Ashley Salvador.

Zatylny said the program has been an "overwhelming success" and that Edmonton Fire Rescue has earmarked $480,000 in its budget to make the team permanent.

"It is projected by the end of 2023, this program will have supported a 31 per cent decrease in structure fires in the targeted neighbourhoods of downtown and Alberta avenue," Zatylny said.

The new team will be expanded to identify and deal with problematic properties throughout the city, and in 2024 the city will charge derelict property owners three times the residential tax rates.

"The financial toll these properties take on communities is substantial," Salvador said. "They put additional pressure on Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, Edmonton police service, bylaw and Alberta Health Services emergency medical service.

"And of course, the social and emotional toll that these properties take is immense as well."

The CPST is addressing the houses next to Smith's. Both have been secured, and one has been fenced off.

She said the measures have helped, but there are still breaches and she's still worried about what will happen with the properties and how it will affect her home.

"It’s sad because you get a hopeless feeling, because you can’t do anything," Smith said, adding she hopes the city will follow through and use the properties to set an example.

"It's hard because this is one of the last affordable neighborhoods in Edmonton for young families who move in here with young kids," she said. "You want to stay, but can you? Can you stay?"

Problem properties can be reported to the CPST by calling 311. 

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