In the beginning...
To whom it may concern,
We, the undersigned herewith request the City of Owen Sound to assist us with the ongoing problem in our neighbourhoods in Owen Sound.
We are experiencing an ongoing problem with rundown properties, absentee landlords, drug users, drug dealers and criminal activity in our neighbourhoods. It has impacted our businesses, homes, children, family lives and property values. In addition the discarded drug paraphernalia presents a danger to the residents, children and pets.
We request that action will be taken by the City of Owen Sound to enforce the bylaws regarding substandard buildings, increase police presence and provide services to improve our neighbourhood.
On September 25, 2017 Monika Brauer delivered this deputation to City Council.
Good evening Mr. Mayor, counsellors and interested citizens. I am Monika Brauer. I am a business and property owner residing in the city of Owen Sound.
Due to the rapidly declining state of my neighbourhood, AND the increased concerns expressed by my neighbours and customers regarding safety issues, AND the reactive, often absent or minimal enforcement of our by-laws, I started this action group to define the priority concerns of my neighbours and customers in order to facilitate change.
What began as a neighbourhood petition quickly drew responses from around the city, and from other communities facing the same issues.
I have been contacted by the Police Department, City of Owen Sound, the Mayor, ….. and several media outlets in the area. I appreciate all of the initiative shown by everyone to date, and look forward to developing actionable goals to improve our city.
2. Why Are We Here?
We are here today because the issue of drug abuse and crime have caused some neighbourhoods to come near breaking point.
We feel that there has been an increase in petty and violent crime in our neighbourhoods and are appealing to the city to help us find solutions to increase the safety, security and quality of life of all Owen Sound residents.
3. Safety and security of all residents
Our group has already started to work together with the Owen Sound Police to improve citizen and police relations and are actively planning events that will provide education to all interested citizens. This will include information about how to effectively secure our homes and to be aware of our surroundings.
We expect that Owen Sound City Hall will play an active role in our endeavours to improve the safety and security of all citizens.
4. Assistance with crime reduction
We request that the city of Owen Sound will take a serious look at how crime can be reduced effectively by providing better street lighting as well as removal of visual barriers, ie: overgrown areas. In addition, a better system of surveillance of the downtown areas beyond 2nd Ave East using cameras and neighbourhood watch programs.
We are experiencing a very high increase of drug users in Owen Sound. Or perhaps it is that the declining physical aspects of some areas has resulted in more visibility of a long standing drug problem. This is accompanied with crime, violence and vagrancy. It has come to our attention that more and more people are being harassed and accosted on the streets of Owen Sound, particularly along 9th Street East between 2nd Avenue East and 1st Avenue East. To be precise around the downtown location of Tim Horton’s, both along the streets of the area and throughout the park area along the river. Business owners and employees are also experiencing the negative impact of vagrancy and loitering. The impact of the increase in these negative events has resulted in decreased customer activity, feeding the downward spiral. Walking downtown has long been a concern during the evening and night time hours but it has now shifted to business hours as well.
We urge the City of Owen Sound to deal with this these issues of vagrancy, harassment, violence, crime and drugs to ensure the safety of our citizens.
5. Insufficient municipal by-law enforcement
The current "by complaint only" by-law enforcement strategy is entirely insufficient. Many residents are unwilling or have stopped to report violations because there has historically been a lack of response by the city of Owen Sound and/or their by-law enforcement officers. Citizens who do take the initiative have been told they must ‘prove’ the problem before by-law officers will investigate, and little if any information is given by way of feedback when complaints are investigated and action taken.
We have been contacted by residents who have made reports to by-law enforcement as far back as 2 years, reporting vacant, abandoned, unsecured buildings. According to some, reports were made numerous times and as recent as 2 weeks ago. It appears no action by the city has been taken.
Many violations pertain to structural problems i.e. broken stairs, unsafe entrances and deteriorating supports. Some also include vacant, unsecured buildings, left unattended and unmonitored by landlords. These cause residents and visitors to be exposed to injury and danger.
Many of these dwellings are owned by absentee landlords.
We ask that the city ensure that substandard rental properties be made the top priority by the by-law enforcement department, and that home owners who are experiencing financial difficulties should be the next priority and be given additional time to make repairs.
This should also depend on the nature and seriousness of the by-law violation. i.e. structural vs. cosmetic.
6. Boarded up or vacant buildings
There are many boarded-up and vacant buildings in Owen Sound which harbour vagrants. The buildings appear to be neglected and have been left in run-down condition by their owners. Buildings which have been boarded-up for many years drastically reduce the value of surrounding properties and create a haven for illicit activities. Some of these properties have been defaced with graffiti, littered with garbage and are overgrown with vegetation. Often these buildings are being used by drug users and dealers. Discarded drug paraphernalia, which we have found on the streets and in our parks, pose a dangerous risk for children, residents and pets.
In order to eliminate this problem, time limits should be imposed on the property owner to either restore or demolish the buildings. For example, Ajax, Pembroke and recently Kitchener have implemented by-laws establishing a 2 year limit. A similar by-law should be drafted, passed and rigorously enforced for Owen Sound. Residents do not want to live next door to boarded-up buildings which diminish the appearance of the neighbourhood, decrease property values and create unsafe conditions.
We ask that in concert with making the enforcement priorities outlined in our previous point, the city will make changes to set time lines for compliance and action for non-compliance, modelled after bylaws in other Ontario municipalities such as Ajax, Pembroke and Kitchener. This would also give the city the power to demolish buildings that are vacant for more than two years, at the cost of the property owner.
7. Neglected Rental Properties
It appears that Owen Sound has numerous properties owned by absentee landlords. We have found that many of these properties are neglected, with little regard for the safety and security of the residents or neighbours. Some of these rental properties are in substandard condition with broken windows, missing railings, deteriorating roofs, overgrown yards and garbage piles.
Building and fire codes are only effective in protecting the public when violations are identified and codes enforced.
We wish to work with the city, bylaw enforcement, and the fire department to educate the public, encourage determination of non-compliant and unsafe buildings, and proactively work co-operatively to raise the standards of accommodation to, if not above, the minimum level of all applicable codes.
In conclusion, we urge City Council to seriously look at all of these issues. Our neighbourhoods must be improved in order to not only attract new residents but also to keep the ones who are here.
Thank you for your time.