Vacant for almost 15 years, Windsor’s old social services building finally comes down

A vacant building which has caused a lot of contention in Windsor over the years is being torn down — and it has residents in the area hoping it’s a sign of things to come.

The City of Windsor’s old social services building on Louis Avenue has stood untouched for almost 15 years. For the last three, people in the neighbourhood were told it would be demolished.

But early Tuesday morning, it finally happened as heavy machinery rolled in — pulling back steel and crushing bricks.

“It was going to be soon, soon, soon. Well, soon finally happened,” said area resident Mary Jane Renaud. “The whole neighbourhood is happy about it. We can’t wait. It’s been vacant since 2005.”

Mary Jane Renaud has been pushing for the demolition of the city’s old Social Services building since 2017. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Renaud has been vocal about the demolition project for the past three years. She spoke with CBC News spoke in 2017, saying the vacant building had become a site for drug use and vandalism.

She went on to fight for change, demanding the city to handle its vacant building problem in a different way — and it worked.

“I think it triggered a lot of interest in the community and the councillors in ensuring that we’re taking care of and monitoring vacant buildings,” said chief building official John Revell.

In 2018, the city developed a strategy, hiring seven by-law officers who deal specifically with building complaints.

Prior to this plan, all complaints fell on the desks of building inspectors who also handled construction projects and building codes. On average, there were 1,200 complaints and it took months for the city to respond, Revell said.

Now, the complaint count has dropped to just 30, with all of them now being handled within the week.

“I think the Windsor model is a little unique in the province and it’s been very successful,” said Revell. “I would say it’s a role model for other communities.”

Chief building official John Revell says the city will take legal action against owners who sit on vacant buildings. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

The strategy has resulted in more owners of vacant buildings turning their properties over, according to the city, by selling them, rebuilding or tearing them down.

If owners do not comply, the city takes them to court. At one time, the city issued about $101,000 worth of fines.

Two vacant schools sit near the social services building lot — and residents in the area hope they are next to be demolished. Currently, there are 221 vacant buildings in Windsor.

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