In some parts of the city, boarded-up houses don't exist. For people who live in those areas, it's hardly a pressing problem. But for those of us in areas where the income is below average, they are a problem, and one for which we don't have a satisfactory solution.
Houses get boarded up for a number of reasons. The house may have been a rental house, which became unfit to be lived in - perhaps non-payment of water bills led to the water being turned off. The home owner may have died, or simply left, and the house was unable to be sold. Or a fire may have rendered the house uninhabitable. Whatever the situation, the windows and doors have been boarded up, the yard is neglected and shows it, and it becomes a problem, not just for the neighbourhood, but for the city.
A boarded-up house can be the source of many problems. Squatters may move in. Young adults may find that it's a great place to party. Fires get started. At the very least, it becomes an eyesore in the neighbourhood, reducing property values.
These houses are occupying space that could be used to build good homes - homes that wouldn't require new infrastructure to be built, and whose residents would utilize current amenities like schools and playgrounds. They are a waste of current city assets. But instead of being used, they tend to remain empty, long past the time when they could be rehabilitated.
I can see a boarded-up house from my front yard. It's a rental property that for several years was a drug house, with lots of short-term visitors at all hours of the day and night, and frequent backyard parties. Fortunately, the police were responsive to complaints, and it's been empty for several years. But it's an attractive nuisance to kids in the neighbourhood - more than once I've called police because I've seen kids starting to pry the boards off the back door or windows. But there doesn't seem to be any action that can be taken to get the owners to take some responsibility in fixing it up so that it's habitable again, or knock it down and sell the lot to someone who will make use of it.
I've been looking for a solution to this problem for most of my time on council. Too often, I've been told by bylaw enforcement that there's nothing that they can do. So I've started having discussions with the city solicitor and other legal professionals, to find out what the options are, and what other cities do to solve the problem. The next step will be to meet with bylaw enforcement staff, and the city solicitor, to find out exactly what roadblocks are stopping them from taking action sooner, or at all. I think that it's important that we involve the people who are going to be involved in doing the work, to ensure that whatever new bylaw we come up with will work at the ground level.
Other communities have tried various options. For example, some require owners to register any boarded-up houses, and have such houses be inspected for whatever needs to be repaired, and charge a fee for such inspection costs. The inspection is done every year, and costs escalate if required repairs were not made. Using the nuisance bylaw to address issues is another possibility.
The goal is not to punish the owners of these homes. The goal is to encourage them to make the property habitable again, and if they don't, to make them pay the city for at least some of the costs that are being incurred by the extra work that such properties entail.
I realize that stuff happens, that sometimes, through no fault of their own, a home owner will have to board up a house. But having a house in this state should be temporary, not long term, for the good of the neighbourhood and the city as a whole.
"An empty house is like a stray dog or a body from which life has departed." Samuel Butler