Several houses on Peters Street have bright new paint and fresh stucco. Garbage has been hauled away. Workers are pulling weeds out of the cracks in the sidewalks.
The seven houses under renovation were part of a swath of buildings in Saint John’s Waterloo Village area, and 33 in the old north end, purchased by Fredericton-based PMV Canada Inc. last year.
All were formerly registered to Phillip Huggard Properties Ltd. and sold as part of Huggard’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Dave Loten, PMV Canada’s chief operating officer, said the company has since invested almost $1 million in the properties on top of the purchase price.
The properties are being managed by Springfall Property Management.
According to Loten, the work is just getting started — and they’re hoping to begin a similar transformation on Saint John’s beleaguered Main Street in 2018.
Secret alleyways, used needles
Large-scale progress doesn’t happen overnight.
When crews started renovations on seven buildings on Peters Street, Loten said, they made some surprising discoveries.
A network of passages connected the back entrances and porches of neglected, garbage-strewn apartment houses.
“There were alleys and paths running behind the buildings that people would use to engage in the drug trade without being seen from the street,” he said.
A baby barn on one of the properties had been converted into a “fort.” People had been camping out in the courtyards. Some had lit fires on the decks.
In one backyard, Loten said, people had tamped down the shoulder-high weeds to made a hideout that crews found “just full” of discarded syringes.
“We picked up two big garbage cans on rollers just full of needles,” he said.
Crews filled numerous 40-yard dumpsters full of garbage, sofas, furniture, food and clothing.
“We evicted everyone that was a problem,” Loten said. “Some of the tenants didn’t like that.” Crews boarded up the alleyways, reinforcing the doors with locks.
“We’ve cleaned up the street — literally cleaned it up,” he said.
On Thursday, walking through the light, airy halls of a freshly renovated heritage building, Loten said, “this [building] has beautiful architectural features, high ceilings, it’s right on the bus route.
“But this apartment was full of needles and condoms. You had to wear protective clothing in here. Now, it’s a nicer area, and the street around it is nice.”
PMV crews have focused work on the buildings nearest Saint John’s uptown core, Loten said, because there’s more of a market for those units than in the north end.
“We have to do it in an organized fashion, so that we have rent coming in,” he said.
Next, he said, they’ll tackle exterior work on a swath of boarded-up residential properties that have blighted the lower end of Main Street for years.
Ben Appleby is a housing coordinator with Housing Alternatives, a nonprofit that connects hard-to-house clients with rent supplements and support.
“Those buildings had had a reputation for sure,” he said. “I’ve heard lots of horror stories from those units.”
“We’ve been waiting to see what would happen,” he said. “As time goes by you get discouraged that they’re just going to sit there and be vacant and look terrible. It’s a big knock to the neighborhood.”
Appleby said Housing Alternatives is working with Springfall Property Management with the goal of moving clients into the newly-renovated units.
“If it’s up to standard we would certainly move ahead with it,” he said “When you see the boards being taken off and a coat of paint going on, it does change a neighborhood.”
Appleby said Housing Alternatives has plans to visit one of the buildings the week of November 5.
Next stop: Main Street?
In addition to the buildings on Peters Street, Loten said since last fall crews have done partial work on “almost all” of the properties on Main Street — although, he admitted, you wouldn’t know it from the outside.
For now, “the buildings the the north end have to remain boarded up to keep people out,” Loten said.
After problems last winter with frozen pipes and burst water lines, his crews are prioritizing the plumbing and electrical work.
“We had to do that, then we’ll clean up the exterior. People just don’t see what we’re already doing inside,” he said.
Some of of them will also be demolished.
“Some of them that had fires in them, it’s just not worth it,” he said.
Although the progress has been slow, Loten urged patience.
“Next year the boards will start coming off the windows on Main Street,” he said.
“We’re on our way, and we’re going to get there.”