So-called problem houses can be found in virtually every municipality in urban Greater Victoria: unkempt properties with notorious reputations for drug dealing, stolen property, loud parties and dangerous characters.
When the B.C. Liberals introduced their Community Safety Act in the Legislature on Thursday to target this problem, it sounded like a good idea, at least on its face.
The legislation will establish an office where people from anywhere in the province can anonymously complain about a neighbouring property or resident.
The office will take steps to substantiate the claim, then force the property owner to clean up their act.
A lot of this is happening now at the civic level. People complain to their municipal hall and/or local police detachment about a property thought to be a drug house or a place where drug addicts try to sell stolen goods.
Police in Greater Victoria field most of these complaints – more than they can handle – but eventually many of these houses are targeted by street crime units and some are busted in raids.
Municipalities can revoke occupancy permits for houses used as grow-ops or those that are otherwise too run down for safe habitation.
Local governments can also seize houses, but the legal process is long and onerous and can often swing on whether the property owner has paid their property taxes.
It’s not clear that the unit created by the proposed Community Safety Act will fare any better. Unless it is particularly well staffed, it’s likely to be overwhelmed with complaints.
Residents can wait a long time for problem houses to get busted by police or shut down by municipal authorities.
It seems unlikely an outside agency could work any faster or have the manpower to investigate even a small fraction of legitimate cases.
Why spend taxpayers’ money on this instead of helping people on the ground? Municipal officials, bylaw officers and police detachments know the problem houses, know the individuals involved and are eager to make their neighbourhoods safe.
This “community safety” bill looks more like Liberal window dressing in advance of the May election than a program that will create a coherent policy to help B.C. communities.