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Wildfire Funding Helping Less Than Half of Hillview Residents, Homeowners Say

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Wildfire Funding Helping Less Than Half of Hillview Residents, Homeowners Say

Hillview Condo Complex in Abasand // Jaryn Vecchio - Harvard Broadcasting

The recent wildfire relief funding isn’t sitting too well with some Hillview residents.

Wood Buffalo council voted on Tuesday to approve $2 million in funding which is also being matched by the Canadian Red Cross and the provincial government, bringing the total to $6 million.

The money will be used for ‘primary resident homeowners’ who are still not back in their home to cover costs of interim housing and special assessments.

Hillview resident Sheila Champion tells Mix News the money is helping the wrong people.

“Not one penny of this should be going into that condo association until a full forensic audit is done.”

She also believes this won’t help every owner dealing with this situation as some weren’t actually living in the condo.

“Why is it that if this is impacting them, they don’t deserve to get help because they had no other choice but to rent or that they made an attempt to better than lives by making an investment – they’re being punished for those two things now.”

Speaking on Fort McMurray Matters, Mayor Don Scott says the idea was to help people who continue to struggle more than two years after the wildfire.

“When you’re looking at a resident in the eye and they’re telling you they are about to go bankrupt or they’re in extreme difficulty, it’s a very difficult situation – these are our neighbours and that’s why we felt compelled to act.”

Canadian Red Cross VP of Alberta and the Northwest Territories Jennifer McManus notes their main priority is helping people who were here during the fire and continue to call Wood Buffalo home.

“If you haven’t been in the community since the event, we’re taking that into consideration and really it’s looking at who’s in the community, we want people to be safe, dry, and warm in a primary residence.”

McManus and Scott also want people to know if they don’t meet the criteria they should still contact the Red Cross to see if they can receive financial help through other programs.

Dividing Owners

Meanwhile, Champion’s views are also shared by other Hillview owners.

Becky Benoit says she’s also concerned for those who aren’t eligible for the funding.

She believes less than half of the Hillview residents will actually benefit.

“This funding goes a long way from helping all of the owners, what this funding does is divide the owners against each other, it creates a class system where some owners are worthy of help and worthy of saving and other owners aren’t.”

Meanwhile, Shawna Parsley adds she has mixed feelings about everything.

“I’m happy for me and for the people who are going to receive it but those people who are, right now, struggling to pay bills and struggling to get ahead, this is not meeting everybody’s needs.”

Forensic Audit

Champion and Benoit note the best path moving forward is to have a forensic audit.

“Nobody knows where this money is going, nobody has ever bothered to see where it’s going,” added Benoit. “The province, municipality, and Red Cross have seen fit to simply pour more gasoline on this raging tire fire.”

They note they don’t want to see taxpayers money go directly to the condo association, helping cover costs they haven’t been told about or shouldn’t need to pay.

“It needs an audit to find out where it went wrong,” Champion said.

Moving forward, along with the forensic audit, many of the Hillview residents are continuing to ask for financial relief for everyone and reform for the condo laws to make sure a situation like this never happens again.

“The municipality’s response to our request is beyond disappointing, it’s disgusting,” said Benoit. “There’s still time to demand a forensic audit before they put any more money into this project, there’s still time for them to change the way they’re distributing the funding to make it equitable for all victims of this disaster.”

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