As the list of vacant and abandoned buildings in Winnipeg continues to grow, a non-profit organization is helping to make a difference while helping families in need.
Habitat for Humanity has been helping build new homes across the city for decades, whether it buys the property outright, whether it’s donated or has been foreclosed by the city.
« We’re definitely part of the solution, » CEO Sandy Hopkins said. « Already, conservatively, we have built 100 homes in the center and north (end) over the past 30 years and would happily build 100 more if the properties were available. »
Habitat recently purchased a home on Alfred Street in the city’s William Whyte neighborhood that had been on the city’s vacant building bylaw enforcement list for months.
« There was a fire at the property in the spring and the landlord called me and asked if we would be interested in buying it, » Hopkins said.
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It’s a situation that may not be trivial, but it does happen and it’s an opportunity the organization will jump on if the time or location is right.
“Depending on where we are, how much land we have in our bank and where we have people wanting to live in different parts of town, we will be looking for properties in the North End or other areas. other parts of Winnipeg, and sometimes they are abandoned properties.
The city currently has 615 properties under its vacancy bylaw and years ago the first property it seized ended up in the hands of Habitat.
“We bought the very first property that went through the entire abandoned property list several years ago,” Hopkins said. « It was a painful process that took about two years.”
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The city said it has sold 24 properties to Habitat for Humanity since 2006, including six in 2018 alone.
The Vacant Buildings Bylaw allows the city to issue fines for condemned buildings and conduct annual inspections, with the ability to issue tickets for violations.
« If we issue an order for, say, the roof and they don’t fix that roof, then what we’ll be looking at is issuing fines, » said enforcement coordinator John Burney. « Then…we issue a subpoena to compel them to appear in court. »
If the owner continually fails to comply, ultimately the property may be seized and sold.
It’s a long process that some officials and organizations, like Habitat, would like to see accelerated.
« It remains a difficult track, very difficult to follow, to try to obtain a good« , said Hopkins.
Hopkins said there’s even more paperwork to go through once you’ve purchased or repossessed land and property.
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He said a municipal bylaw currently makes it difficult to obtain a demolition permit unless the property has been condemned. Otherwise, you must also obtain a replacement building permit at the same time.
For an organization like Habitat, they may not be ready to build on the property right away because they have other projects pending.
“You can understand the logic in certain circumstances. But in our case here and often in the properties we buy… we won’t be building here for at least two years,” Hopkins said.
“It makes no sense to leave this abandoned building here for two years. It’s a danger to the neighborhood and so ideally it should fall by the time we receive the title.”
The organization would like the city to facilitate the demolition of the house so that it does not pose a risk to the community.
« It’s really a safety issue, » said chief operating officer Michelle Pereira. “We don’t want people coming in and starting a fire because they’re cold. We want to make sure we are responsible homeowners and make sure we don’t leave it in a position where a neighbor’s house will be set on fire.
Pereira said they have a team to check all of his properties once a week.
« To walk around the neighborhoods and properties that we own and make sure that if there’s a building on the site that’s still condemned, the grass is cut, there’s nothing around, there’s no a person who lives in the building, » she said.
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