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Speed up process for seizing burned-out properties, William Whyte residents say

Residents in Winnipeg’s William Whyte neighbourhood say they want the city to do more about burned-out buildings.

In one block of Powers Street, four houses have burned in the last year. The president of the William Whyte Neighbourhood Association says one house was set on fire twice within the past five days.

“I feel real bad, because Winnipeg is a very beautiful city, and right now, in my neighborhood, it’s not very beautiful, so I’m very discouraged,” said Darrell Warren.

The residents’ association says there are around 50 houses that have burned and not been cleaned up.

“A lot of people that I talk to have the feeling that nobody cares. It’s just the North End. And that’s very sad to hear that.  But … people are talking about selling and just getting out of here because of how bad it’s gotten.”

In a letter sent to Mayor Scott Gillingham, city councillors, and provincial and federal officials, Warren calls for the city to speed up the process to take possession of derelict properties.

“The problem is these properties are sitting way, way, way too long,” he said.

Warren also wants the city to reinstate its arson task force, which ran from 2000 to 2012. 

The neighbourhood association says burned out properties that have not been cleaned up become targets for illegal dumping.

They also want the city to remove red tape to shorten the process for rebuilding.

“There needs to be a better process for ensuring houses are boarded up securely and stay that way,” the association’s letter states. 

“More bylaw officers are needed to ensure there is accountability and enforcement.”

The City of Winnipeg has introduced numerous measures in recent years to discourage property owners from allowing their buildings to sit vacant and derelict. 

Those measures include charging property owners for the costs of fire responses to vacant buildings, increasing standards for securing boarded up properties, and adding bylaw enforcement officers.

In some cases, those measures are not working, and it’s time to look at ways to take possession of problem properties, Gillingham said.

“I agree with Darrell Warren and the William Whyte Neighborhood Association — the people of William Whyte shouldn’t have to continue to put up with this. And the people in the West End and Coun. (Cindy) Gilroy’s area are facing the same challenges,” he said.

Gillingham has asked the city’s legal department to look for ways of speeding up the process of taking title without compensation, which can take years.

A city report last year warned the costs of cleaning up demolished properties could exceed the amount of money the city could get by selling them. The city may need the Manitoba government to pass new legislation giving it increased authority.

Gillingham acknowledged that will be part of the discussion councillors need to have.

“For the city to go in and take title of a property is a very serious thing. I don’t say that lightly … but enough is enough,” he said.

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