Saskatoon

Pleasant Hill residents vent to mayor about 'third-world' conditions, call for action on unsafe homes

"Our community is bombarded with boarded-up houses, violence, and habitual criminal and gang activity," says the area's community association.

Mayor Charlie Clark vows to help 'flip the script' on area's social challenges

The Pleasant Hill Community Association is calling on the city to take action against absentee landlords of condemned buildings like this one on Avenue S South. (courtesy Shane Partridge)

Just days after Saskatoon's Pleasant Hill neighbourhood was rocked by its third homicide in one week, leaders in the area wrote an impassioned letter to Mayor Charlie Clark, decrying what they say is a persistent lack of action on the neighbourhood's vexing social challenges and imbalances. 

The two-page letter was sent July 10 by the Pleasant Hill Community Association and was also addressed to Ward 2 councillor Hilary Gough. It was made public Wednesday. 

"Our community is bombarded with boarded-up houses, violence, and habitual criminal and gang activity," the group wrote.

Despite the work of a revitalization committee back in 2003 and emergency meetings since then, some recommendations for how to improve the area's quality of life, including street lighting, "have still not been actualized to their full potential," the association wrote in the letter.

"Now we have found ourselves in a more critical state due to poverty, gangs and drugs. Also, many of our residents are left to navigate colonial systems when it comes to reporting crime … and writing letters with very little immediate action. This is problematic."

Read the association's full letter to Clark and Gough below. On mobile? Click here

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'There has been no improvement' 

The association is also sounding the alarm again about several boarded-up apartment buildings and homes on the 200 block of Avenue V S that it says people are breaking into and living in despite the buildings' condemned statuses.

The group says it's worked with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and contacted health inspectors, the fire department and bylaw officers about the homes.  

"There has been no improvement. The bare minimum is done to get these homes back up to inspection standards.  These properties are unsafe living conditions and the activities that go on around them leave our community members in a constant state of PTSD and trauma.

"Why is it acceptable for these conditions to continue to permeate within the Pleasant Hill community? Why do our children need to continue to grow up living and playing around third-world living conditions, condemned houses, drug houses and continued violence? Why are we still advocating for things like proper lighting, proper police resources, affordable and safe housing, adequate mental health and addictions services? The list could go on."

'Current system is not working,' mayor says

The association said it was told in 2003 that the city had the power to demolish homes that were persistently neglected by their landlords "to provide other investors the opportunity to build safe family and affordable housing."

Shane Partridge, the association's community safety coordinator and one of the co-signers of the letter, said Clark and Gough met with the association on July 26.

Partridge also provided CBC News a copy of a July 23 response letter from Clark and Gough.

"We recognize that the current system is not working and that there is much work to do to help address the issues that you have raised," they wrote. "There is a need for better coordination among the various actors and agencies that are doing work in this area."

Clark and Gough said the issues of poverty reduction, gang violence and drugs are not new but "have become more prominent in recent months" and that they require a collaborative approach.

Holding landlords to account has been "an ongoing challenge," they added. 

"We both want to see progress on this — and want to see it sooner rather than later — but at this time we will have to let administration provide you with a response."

The letter concluded by praising the Pleasant Hill Community Association's "strong leadership."

"We want to work with you to serve the community — to use your own words, to 'flip the script.'"

Read Clark and Gough's full response letter below. On mobile? Click here.

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City councillors are scheduled to discuss the association's letter next Monday. The letter was posted online this week as an attachment to a council committee meeting agenda. 

'Pleasant Hill is a big place': police chief

The association's letter — which Partridge told CBC News was a response to "all the crime happening in Pleasant Hill" — came five days after police found the body of 52-year-old Noreen Victorine Moore in an apartment located on the same stretch of Avenue V S flagged by the association as a nexus of unwanted activity in condemned homes. 

Moore's death was quickly classified a homicide — the third case of homicide in the Pleasant Hill area during a one-week stretch from late June to early July. Altogether, five of the nine homicides recorded so far in Saskatoon this year have taken place in Pleasant Hill. 

Police Chief Troy Cooper said shortly after Moore's death that the trio of homicides were not related "but we have had cases throughout the year where gang involvement was a part of the offence and certainly where addictions were parts of the offence, sometimes both." 

Cooper was also quick to defend the neighbourhood. 

"Pleasant Hill is a big place," he said. "Although these homicides were contained within that, there are many great locations in Pleasant Hill where we're not challenged by some of the violent offending that we've seen in the last day or two."

The police increased its patrols in the area to make residents feel safer.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips and ideas welcomed at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca