One year later It’s been one year since the Fort McMurray wildfire, which is considered one of Canada’s costliest insurance disasters (approximately $3.6 billion).The fires destroyed more than 2,500 homes, apartments and businesses, and displaced thousands of people.The province’s worst forest fire also brought Albertans and Canadians together, as they donated money, clothing, accommodations, supplies and more to help those most affected.
Last year, we heard from landlords, business owners and others involved in the rental housing industry who contributed to helping the wildfire victims – there were just too many to mention in these pages. It demonstrates how members of the rental housing community are dedicated to helping people (and not just filling units). This article revisits the people and businesses we covered last time to see what has happened over the last year.
Boardwalk Rental Communities Following the fire in Ft. McMurray, Boardwalk offered a special rental package to any displaced residents of Fort McMurray, which included flexible lease terms, no security deposit and discounts to rental terms. Boardwalk opened its doors and welcomed home more than 600 families who were evacuated from Fort McMurray. More than 500 families have joined its Edmonton communities, and it welcomed another 100 families to its Red Deer and Calgary communities.
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“Our Fort McMurray properties, which have 352 units, sustained no major damages in the fire, and were all professionally cleaned to remove smoke residue,” said David McIlveen, Director, Community Development, Boardwalk Rental Communities. “By midJune 2016, we were welcoming previous residents back, and renting to new residents in July.”
Mainstreet Equity Corp. Within 24 hours of the Fort McMurray evacuation, Mainstreet offered free rent and many other incentives for apartments in Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon. Its employees set up a task force and worked overtime to ready the units to receive the evacuees quickly. The company offered 200 units to the hundreds of families fleeing the fires, and in some circumstances offered a $500 Ikea gift card.
“We have developed a close relationship with Red Cross and other corporate partners after offering assistance to the victims of the Slave Lake fires, the forest fires in Fort McMurray, and the Syrian refugees coming to Canada,” said Bob Dhillon, Founder and CEO, Mainstreet Equity Corp. “We stood together with other Albertans and tried to soften the blow for the citizens of Fort McMurray who had to leave everything behind as they fled the massive raging forest fires. Our task force was swift and evacuees were welcomed to Mainstreet apartment units quickly. We will continue to help those in need when we can.”
When it was launched, Yardi shared the initiative through email campaigns and social media sites, and requested clients to list available units. Renters began inquiring about apartments on May 16. By that afternoon, more than 2,500 units were listed for rent and prospective renters submitted hundreds of inquiries. That same day, a call centre powered by RENTCafé Connect opened, where potential renters were able to get assistance on applying for housing. Yardi provided the services free of charge for the next nine months.
Kelson Group Property Management Kelson Group accommodated approximately 20 families within the properties it manages in the Edmonton area. It was able to assist families in need of accommodation, who had few options for a place to live during this time. The company also helped by providing and moving temporary furniture where required. After the fire was extinguished, most families returned to Fort McMurray.
“The team put in long hours to make ready apartments for occupancy that would have otherwise not been ready,” said Roxanne Johnson, Property Manager, Kelson Property Management Group. “We stayed up to date and informed so that we could point our short-term residents in the right direction for help that they may have needed. Staff also communicated with the current residents when they saw that we were relaxing some of our pet policies to accommodate the victims who had pets.” Yardi On May 9, 2016, Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) approached Yardi Systems Inc. to create an online housing registry where Fort McMurray residents could search for and rent apartments. On May 12, the Province of Alberta approved moving the project forward. Three days later, thanks to the global efforts of a team of executives, managers, programmers, designers and marketers, Yardi used its RENTCafé platform to develop the registry.
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“It was great to see that our RENTCafé product could be put to immediate use to help those displaced find housing.” said Peter Altobelli, Vice-President and General Manager, Yardi Canada Ltd. “At a time of crisis, our global teams worked around the clock using our technology to help those in need. The project had an immediate and positive effect on people’s lives.”
How to help Although a year has passed, many people have not recovered from losing their homes to the wildfire. Fortunately, many landlords and businesses (beyond those listed in this article) involved in the rental housing industry continue to support those most affected by this tragedy. We at RHB Magazine are proud of how our industry has come together to help those most affected in Fort McMurray. To learn how you can contribute to the continued relief efforts, contact the Alberta Residential Landlord Association in Edmonton (www.albertalandlord.org, 780-413-9773) or the Calgary Residential Rental Association (www.crra.ca, 403-265-6055). You can also donate to the Canadian Red Cross (www.redcross.ca, 1-800-418-1111).