What’s the Plan for Derelict Buildings in Our City?
Ottawa’s main streets are the lifeblood of our communities. It is in these public spaces that we shop, work, and spend time with our families. Unfortunately, it is also in these spaces that we are all too often confronted with boarded-up, crumbling, and derelict buildings. There can be no questions that derelict buildings, which often go neglected for years, detract from the vibrancy of our communities and our city.
So, the question is what is the city’s plan to deal with these urban monuments of decay? Sadly, the answer is that there isn’t much of a plan. Residents of this city deserve better; it’s time for Council to take this problem seriously and commit to finding a solution. These derelict buildings are not only festering eyesores and public health concerns but also represent a lost opportunity for vibrant economic development
For example, in Old Ottawa South, there is frustration around the former home of West Coast Video and Elee Spa on Bank Street. It’s been nine years since the fire that emptied the space of any useful purpose. Almost a decade has come and gone, and rather than repurposing the building for the community; it has decayed and become the home of raccoons and rodents.
One of the most significant policy failures in Ottawa regarding this issue has been the tax rebate program for vacant buildings. Until recently, commercial buildings that were vacant for more than 90 days were eligible for a 30% property tax rebate (35% for vacant industrial buildings). In 2016 alone, the City handed out $17 million of these rebates according to reporting in the Ottawa Citizen.
However, with so many vacant buildings in our core, it became apparent that the rebate acted as a disincentive for many owners to do anything with their empty buildings. In May of 2017, Ottawa’s City Council finally voted to kill the rebate program over two years. The rebate was reduced to 15% in 2017 and eliminated entirely in 2018.
But stopping to reward decay is not enough. Our next City Council should adopt a robust strategy to curb the proliferation of derelict commercial buildings. In 2012, Winnipeg implemented an ambitious nine-point plan that led to a marked decrease in derelict buildings in that City. Owners in Winnipeg must now obtain a permit to maintain buildings boarded up, with the cost increasing significantly year after year. Regular safety inspection fees, no occupancy orders until a new occupancy certificate is purchased, a consistently aggressive approach to enforcing a vacant building by-law, and major financial penalties for non-compliant building owners, including the extraordinary power for the City to take the title without compensation in the case of chronic non-compliers are included in Winnipeg’s strategy.
So why not a similar plan in Ottawa?
Because it fits with some Councillors’ approach of putting developers first and the rest of the community second. Council must be held accountable and think outside the box and building owners in our ward must be held accountable. Old Ottawa South is a vibrant community that deserves so much more.
In the meantime, I urge you to sign my petition demanding action on Ottawa’s crumbling and abandoned buildings. For too long the interest of the few has driven public policy and with enough outcry perhaps the Mayor will pull another classic election campaign flip-flop and finally take proactive steps to fix the city’s derelict policies on abandoned buildings.