Firefighters battle blaze at vacant home in Lower Sackville – Halifax


Firefighters were busy Tuesday afternoon battling a fire at a vacant home in Lower Sackville.

The blaze broke out in the 300-block of Sackville Drive.

READ: Halifax firefighters get longer response times, study expanding service in Fall River

Acting District Chief Stephen Turner says fire crews arrived to find the house “fully involved.”

“We immediately established a defensive position as it was too involved to have firefighters on the inside,” Turner said.

He says five Halifax fire trucks and some support vehicles responded to the scene. As well, police, fire and EHS were on scene. There were no reported injuries.

Turner says crews would be on scene for “quite some time” due to the age of the structure, its layout and the safety concerns for firefighters.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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B.C. federal riding falls vacant as Trudeau poised to call three byelections


OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is poised to call byelections in three federal ridings within days and now he has a fourth vacant riding he may choose to fill at the same time.

Sheila Malcolmson has officially resigned as the New Democrat MP for the British Columbia riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

She is leaving the federal stage to run in a provincial byelection, called Wednesday by Premier John Horgan for Jan. 30.

READ MORE: Trudeau to call 3 byelections for February, Singh gets chance to win B.C. byelection as Ontario seat opens

Malcolmson says she sent a letter to House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan on Nov. 27, informing him that her resignation would take effect on Jan. 2.

In addition to Nanaimo-Ladysmith, there are three other vacant ridings: the B.C. riding of Burnaby South, where NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is hoping to win a seat in the Commons, the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe, left open by the resignation of Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, and the Montreal riding of Outremont, where former NDP leader Tom Mulcair has resigned.

WATCH: Trudeau says byelections in seats vacated ‘mere weeks ago’ will be filled ‘soon’

Trudeau’s office has confirmed the prime minister intends to call byelections in those three ridings early this month, with the votes taking place in early February.


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Kingston man rescued from fire in vacant Princess Street building – Kingston


The old Gino’s Pizza building, which currently stands vacant, caught fire on Christmas Eve with one man trapped inside.

The man, trapped on the second floor of 557 Princess St., was quickly rescued by the Kingston Fire Department, which responded to the scene.

It took around four hours and 21 firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

Kingston’s fire department told Global News a device that looked like a giant wok was believed to have caused the fire and was possibly being used as a heating device.

The area surrounding the device was covered in exposed wood, which only fed the fire, eventually stripping the plumbing and wiring on the floor.

Abandoned building catches fire on Princess Street

The three-storey building, which once housed Gino’s Pizza, has been sitting vacant for years. The fire department says that homeless individuals are often found inside the structure, but they couldn’t confirm to Global News if the individual trapped in the blaze was a homeless person.

After being rescued, the man was taken to Kingston General Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation but suffered no other injuries.

Kingston Fire and Rescue warn of phone calls in smoke alarm scam

There have been other fires at 557 Princess St, in the past, but Kingston police told Global News there is no evidence of criminal intent in this case and no further investigation will take place.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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‘Do you see it as an asset or a liability?’: Saint John mulls future of vacant north-end houses – New Brunswick


As vacant buildings across Saint John’s old north end come down — either by fire or scheduled demolition — some in the neighbourhood say tearing down is the best chance to clear the way for rebirth.

“Well, they’ve got to come down at some point to rebuild the community. The north end was once a thriving community quite some time ago, so I believe it’s necessary for it to be completely rebuilt,” said north-end resident Matt Allan.

Thirty-three vacant buildings have been torn down this year and another 44 have been repaired, passing the 2018 target of 75 cases. There are approximately 200 buildings that are either vacant or badly damaged on the city’s watch list.

Ward 2 Coun. John MacKenzie shares the opinion that the abandoned buildings need to be torn down to help facilitate revitalization.

“Obviously, if we want developers to come in and do something in this area, we’ve got to clean it up. Nobody wants to put a new building beside three or four buildings that need to be torn down,” he said.

“So phase one, tear them down and clean it up, and then phase two, rebuild.”

READ MORE: Fire crews battle overnight blaze in north end Saint John

Kit Hickey, the executive director of Housing Alternatives, an organization that provides property management and maintenance services for housing co-ops and non-profit housing, says the steps taken by the city to enforce the dangerous and unsightly premises bylaw is helping to restore a sense of safety to the north-end community.

“The city should be applauded on the measures that they are taking to ensure that the vacant, dilapidated buildings are being dealt with in a timely manner,” she said.

“This community has not felt safe as a result of the number of structure fires so it is absolutely essential that the city continues on with the enforcement of these bylaws.”

N.B. provincial testing reveals slight drop in Grade 2 students’ reading abilities  

MacKenzie said the city intends to keep up its current pace of demolitions.

“I think that people are starting to feel a lot safer now because the city is tearing down so many of them and I think we’re getting a good positive reaction,” he said.

“We’re going to continue to do it, we’re going to prioritize and get the ones that are the most dangerous down as quickly as we can.”

But others see a missed opportunity where others see only urban blight.

“I see a whole bunch of lost opportunities everywhere and it’s just a way of thinking about it. Do you think of it as an insurmountable problem?” said Jim Bezanson, who formerly served as a heritage planner for Saint John.

“One option is, yes, tear it down, solve the problem quickly… Or do you go in, look at them, assess them? Sure, if it needs to come down, bring in the crew and dismantle it.”

WATCH: Saint John City Market vacancies raise eyebrows

Bezanson says he’d rather see buildings restored, and if they are too far gone, see them dismantled, allowing for a stockpile of materials to built to assist in repairing or building other homes.

With the right programs and management, Bezanson sees possible opportunities for education through the stripping or repairing of vacant buildings which could then lead to possible employment, and once a building is finished, affordable housing.

“Do you see it as an asset or a liability? And it’s that simple. If you see it as an asset, then first priority, you fix it up,” he said.

Hickey contends that restoration is often too impractical and expensive for non-profits. She added Housing Alternatives looks to get a lifespan of 25-30 years using minor renovations. Where that isn’t possible, investment isn’t practical.

“Based on the experience that we have and the type of development that we do, we need to ensure that we’re going to have a fairly long-term life out of these buildings. The reality for the majority of the building, we’re not going to be able to realize the lifespan of 25 to 35 years,” she said.

“When we look at them, we know that financially, it’s not going to be viable for us to do minor renovations because we’re going to be faced with major repairs in the not-too-distant future.”

Saint John Mayor Don Darling says 2019 a ‘make-or-break’ year for city

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Idle lots, vacant house at 214-230 Sherbourne embody the problem of building affordable housing


On one side of the street, like scarecrows, a clutch of raggedy homeless men and women while away the hours outside All Saints Anglican Church.

On the other side of the street, an empty lot: an expanse of grass with a couple of trees, cordoned off by a chain-link fence.

At the edge of the lot sits an enormous vacant house, once upon a time stately, and, later, not so stately, now fallen into ramshackle disrepair. But for decades, until a few years ago, it had offered 30 rooms for board. For people who live in rooms. If they could scrape together the money, with social assistance.

All of it owned by the same couple, Bhushan and Rekha Taneja, whose large real estate portfolio includes many other rooming houses across Toronto.

And for a decade that lot, at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne Streets, has sat unused while property values in the city have skyrocketed.

Perhaps not yet enriching enough for the owners in a metropolis bursting its seams. Maybe not yet lucrative enough to sell in one of the few remaining urban corridors where the critically impoverished carve out a slapdash existence.

The idle lots and vacant house at 214-230 Sherbourne were put on the market early this year. Long enough for the Toronto Affordable Housing Office to at least briefly consider buying. And then it was abruptly taken off the market.

“There was no real engagement,” says Sean Gadon, director of the Affordable Housing Office. “It may have also been the result of (the property) being in the media at the time. My understanding is that the owners were only interested in selling to private buyers.”

Think condos, along a downtown swath, astride an arterial road that has undergone extensive gentrification, in parts, but is still a prime locus for rooming houses, mission houses, soup kitchens and decrepit social housing.

Together, the empty lot and the vacant house are worth at least $4 million, according to city tax records, which seems awfully low in developer-eat-developer Toronto.

A shoehorned condo tower seems inappropriate for this location; not many youngish upwardly mobile buyers would likely be interested, living cheek to jowl with the destitute.But the same could be said for other urban niches which have been scooped up and transformed, for better or worse.

These properties have long been eyed by poverty activists, pleading with the city to expropriate the land and vacant residence as Toronto tries to address a low income housing crisis. On Thursday, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty held a rally outside the fence — a fence which had been mended, at its southern edge just yesterday morning, maybe to bolster security against the demonstration.

“We’re fixing up the house, too,” a man who described himself as a superintendent for the empty building told the Star. “We made repairs last year, but the eaves weren’t fixed, the water came through and there was a lot of damage.”

OCAP placards were removed from the fencing and “No Trespassing” signs are dotted around the house.

The owners did not return the Star’s calls yesterday.

At one point, they planned to demolish the house, as the homes which formerly stood on the lots were razed, but were prevented from doing so by a last-minute heritage order, and forced, instead, to make repairs.

“They want to start a bidding war for it,” said rally organizer Yogi Acharya. “And they keep raising the rents for all their other rooming houses. How can you afford to pay $950 for a basement room when you’re getting $733 in social assistance a month?”

The owners, of course, can do what they want.

That’s perfectly legal.

And that, essentially, is a big part of the problem in a city where Toronto City Council staff last year estimated 15,000 to 28,000 homes are unoccupied, a figure arrived at by studying Toronto Hydro data for addresses where no electricity or water had been consumed.

Statistics Canada puts the figure for unoccupied homes in the GTA at 99,000.

But you can’t arm-twist owners into selling.

Well, actually you can, under the provincial Expropriation Act, but only for narrow purposes, public service projects. Like building a subway.

Or social housing revitalization endeavours, such as the George St. Revitalization Project. That undertaking — it incorporates a long-term care home with 378 beds, a 100-bed emergency shelter for men and a 130-bed “transitional living” service for men and women — was green-lit in principal in 2013, but only received funding approval this past February. At the earliest, construction won’t begin until 2020.

Bureaucracy moves slowly, sluggishly.

While people die.

While they live in miserable conditions.

While the cascading consequences of homelessness and marginal shelter contribute to a slew of community ills, including increased crime.

“The best way to address social problems is through social policies,” said Acharya.

“Expropriation is justifiable.”

Gadon counters that the city has done so, with “strategic acquisitions” deemed urgent, such as the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre and Edmond Place non-profit housing community, erected on land that had sat unused for seven years after buildings had been destroyed by a fire. Among the most ambitious revitalization projects was the massive West Don Lands, expropriated by the province at the urging of then-Mayor Art Eggleton.

“The broader public interest allows for that,” says Gadon. “The challenge is that they come at a cost.”

The city can only purchase property “candidates” for expropriation at market value, which is ever more expensive. “And that’s more of a political decision,” notes Gadon.

In June, city council instructed staff to develop a strategy “framework” for expropriating and acquiring properties for housing. “We’re looking for a sensible way to approach this,” says Gadon. “How do you determine funding? Where will that money come from? How do you deal with willing or unwilling sellers?”

That report will be submitted next year.

There is also the option of initiating a vacant-house tax, with the funds reinvested in affordable housing initiatives. Vancouver went in that direction, recently implementing an “Empty Homes Tax” for vacant and under-used residential properties, homes that have been unoccupied for at least six months, albeit with generous exemptions. The one-per-cent tax is expected to generate $30 million in revenue this year alone.

Toronto council is looking at this, too. Gadon says a better, more immediate alternative could rest in making creative use of properties the city already owns: public land, TTC land and neglected Toronto Housing assets.

“We’ve concentrated a fair amount of time on what sites does the city have that are city-owned.”

Eighteen such properties have been identified.

Obviously, privately owned 214-230 Sherbourne Street isn’t among those.

No, the weeds will continue to grow there. Six empty lots. One vacant house.

Until, it seems, the owners decide the time is ripe to make a killing.


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