Some Hillview condo owners left out of new Fort McMurray wildfire relief fund

Some owners of a beleaguered Fort McMurray wildfire rebuild under construction say new government assistance won’t help many residents who are losing their savings, falling into debt and foreclosing on their units.

'We were victims from a fire like everyone else,' condo owner says

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo approved $2 million in funding for residents still facing rebuild problems, but that won't apply to some owners of Hillview Park condos, seen here in 2017. (David Thurton/ CBC)

New government assistance intended to help Fort McMurray, Alta., residents rebuild after the 2016 wildfire will not be available to several owners of a beleaguered condo project. 

Residents struggling to rebuild their homes will be able to access $6 million in financial aid, provided by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the province and the Red Cross. The funds are intended to help cover costs of interim housing and special assessment fees for homeowners.

Fort McMurray's Hillview Park condos were cited in Tuesday's funding announcement. The 214-unit building in the Abasand neighbourhood burned to the ground during the wildfire, and condo owners have been burdened with the cost of rebuilding the complex.

Owners have been billed up to $56,000 each for two special assessments of repairs and incomplete work, after the contract with their first builder was terminated. That builder, Viceroy Construction, and the condo board are tangled in litigation.

Fort McMurray's Hillview Park homeowners have been forced to continue paying their mortgages and condo fees on a building not yet constructed. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Homeowners have also been forced to continue paying their mortgages and condo fees or risk foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Red Cross help, but only for some

Even with a new pot of funding, many Hillview Park owners aren't eligible to apply for relief.

Only owners who lived in Fort McMurray during the 2016 wildfire will receive funding, the Red Cross told CBC News Wednesday.

Rebecca Benoit said her family and many other owners left Fort McMurray before the wildfire, due to the lagging economy. 

If this was an investment, this was the worst investment of my life.- Rebecca  Benoit , condo owner

"I'm not eligible for this," Benoit said. "We were forced to leave Fort McMurray to find work."

The Red Cross, who will administer the fund, said it's prioritizing aid to people whose primary residences were destroyed, instead of rental or investment properties. Benoit doesn't think that approach is fair. 

"That term makes me laugh because if this was an investment, this was the worst investment of my life," Benoit said. "We did not ask for this. We were victims from a fire like everyone else."

Lacking accountability

Some Hillview Park owners also said the new aid doesn't address underlying concerns that the rebuild isn't being managed properly and lacks accountability.

"This is not a wildfire disaster. This is a Hillview Park disaster," condo owner Sheila Champion said. "Before one more penny is injected into the Hillview rebuild, there needs to be a full forensic audit to find out why this happened."

The province did not directly respond to CBC's questions about whether it would commission an audit of the condo board. But in an emailed statement, Service Alberta spokesperson Kate Toogood said the courts have appointed an administrator to manage the condo board, "which is a great step forward."

The Hillview Park condo board did not respond to requests for comment.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 


David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.


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