Website that exposed blighted properties has made a difference

Troy Shantz

A website that turned a spotlight on blighted buildings in Sarnia one year ago has resulted in 100% of the properties undergoing repairs, its administrator says.

Ron RealeSmith said he launched Sarnia Urban Blight to pressure the owners of rundown buildings, many of them absentee landlords, to take responsibility for their properties.

“They are all in compliance with the city bylaws, which they weren’t when we first started,” he said.

The website, which also has a Facebook page, began with a list of 17 properties, most them in the vicinity of Mitton Village.

Today, six have been fixed up and are either sold or for sale, six were cleaned up and rented, and three are secured and compliant with city bylaws. The other two burned down.

“The city responded to all 17 of those, so I want to give them kudos for that,” RealeSmith said.

Nevertheless, he believes Sarnia’s bylaws could be more assertive.

“I would love for the city to look to other places and think outside the box, and instead of following the trends (be) the trendsetter.”

Urban blight is defined by decay of residential and commercial spaces left unoccupied, sometimes for years. Rental properties allowed to become blighted in otherwise safe and quiet neighbourhoods often become associated with crime and substance abuse.

RealeSmith’s website did produce some blowback. He has received private messages from property owners asking him to remove their properties from his site.

Which he says he’ll do – and does – after they clean up their property.

And there has been positive feedback as well.

“I’ve gotten to know my neighbours really well in the past year,” he said. “People will say, ‘Hey you’re the blight guy!’”