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The west end of Windsor has developed a ghost town look due to so many buildings being boarded up.
Windsor’s west end has been declining in value as homes and buildings are left vacant. A city bylaw is preventing abandoned houses from being demolished for reuse of properties, and buildings are being vacated too fast to focus on one specific location.
John Elliott, Windsor’s recently elected ward two councillor, stated the issue of vacant properties is currently the biggest affair in the west end.
The idea of building a new Windsor-Detroit bridge was brought up in order to replace the currently under-maintained Ambassador Bridge. In order for a new bridge to be built, property had to be acquired for space to construct. However, the current Ambassador Bridge owner refused to see his bridge replaced.
Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun has been trying for several years with proposals, lawsuits, and buying of property in Windsor’s west end to stall the building of the New International Trade Crossing by Canadian and United States officials. He proposed to start construction of a second span of the busiest commercial crossing in North America, which he would pay for and his Canadian Transit Company would own.
Moroun has been purchasing property in Windsor since 1996, making his first Indian Road investment of 14 homes in May of that year. In December 2013 it was estimated Moroun had amassed 182 properties for approximately $52 million, all of which are currently vacant.
“My plan,” Elliott commented, “is to have an environmental assessment paid for by the bridge and the city, fifty-fifty, to look at the impacts both socially and economically of what it has done to this community.” As director of the Sandwich Teen Action Group and an active member of the community, Elliott believes “whatever the community wants” is the best solution for the west end vacancies.
Olde Sandwich Towne is one of several affected areas of the vacant properties, specifically Indian Road. Residents of this nearly empty road have mixed feelings on what should be done with the vacant properties if grants are not given to construct the twin span.
David Montgomery and family member Sabrina Montgomery have lived in their Indian Road home for seven years. People have broken into homes stealing items such as laptops, and arson has been a problem, Sabrina commented on the troubles of crime.
“I would never walk down Wyandotte to the riverfront on Indian at night,” stated Sabrina, an employee at the University of Windsor. She expressed concerns of few street lights and a small number of residents, questioning the safety of the road.
“[The vacant homes] have to go,” David added. He conveyed worry of safety for west end residents and university students, as vacant homes are falling apart and properties are not well kept.
The Montgomerys would like to see the empty buildings torn down and the properties made into a green space until a consensus is made. Even with Paladin Security hired by the Canadian Transit Company to look over the empty houses, it is a safety hazard to let the houses sit untouched, they say.
Several students rent rooms in houses on Indian Road, because it is within walking distance to the University of Windsor. Members of the west end community and university students have worries of the safety on Indian Road.
“We see random people going in and out of the houses all the time,” stated University of Windsor student Sarah Wade.
Wade, Julia Borsatto, and four other female students at the university rent an Indian Road home. Borsatto and Wade agreed they do not often feel secure living on the rundown road, but have connected well with neighbours. “We are a community here, but if we were isolated I would not feel safe,” said Borsatto.
Kevin Flood, property owner of 10 to 12 homes on Indian Road, said properties in the west end have depreciated in value. While properties on the east side of the Ambassador Bridge have risen in value, for the properties on the west side, “there has been no net increase.”
While discussing the struggles of home owners on the west side, Flood stated, “Their properties don’t have enough value to sell.”
Flood, running candidate for ward two councillor in the recent municipal general election, believes Moroun and the Canadian Transit Company should be given freedom to build the bridge on the properties he owns. “Let the bridge build its second span. It’s the only fair thing,” Flood commented. “It’s their property; they should be able to enhance it if they want.”
Other homeowners and residents living among Indian Road stressed other concerns, like an increase in rodents and security fences being low enough to jump, but there is no general agreement on what should be done with the houses.
Well-known buildings such as the Olde Sandwich Towne Post Office, College Avenue Community Centre, Windsor Jail, and J. L. Forester Secondary School are on the list of closed and soon-to-close buildings in Windsor’s west end. Although these and several other buildings are not owned by Moroun, local politicians believe a decline in Olde Sandwich Towne’s population is causing historic buildings and west end homes to be left vacant.
Taxpayers’ money goes to funding the empty lots, with a 30 percent tax rebate for commercial properties with no tenant and 35 percent to industrial properties with no tenant. This has cost the City of Windsor an estimated $6 million between 2011 and 2013 in lost tax revenue.
In 2012, Canadian and Michigan governments agreed on a publicly owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit, Michigan. The Rt. Hon. Herb Grey Parkway required demolitions of approximately 900 properties on several roads mainly in ward one. Vacancies were only an issue until construction began.
The six-lane extension of Highway 401 has required demolitions on Huron Church Road, Huron Church Line, Sansotta Court, and many other roads within the same areas. The parkway was estimated to create 12,000 jobs and 300 acres of green space.
Between construction workers on the Herb Grey Parkway, students at the University of Windsor, and immigrants, Windsor’s vacancy rate declined from last year’s rate of 6.3 percent to five percent, released in April.
In 2009, the vacancy rate in Windsor was three times the size it is today at 15.5 percent, the highest rate in the country.
“It’s at a standstill,” Elliott claimed. “The community is divided over [the vacant properties].”