Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring cleaning

Has anyone else ever wondered why a jug of windshield washer fluid has about *thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis* much too much liquid in it based on the size of the reservoir? Now, being human, procrastination is deep seeded in my veins, which means that I usually remember to put in washer fluid right about the time I hear that horrible dry pumping whir coming from under the hood when I pull on the lever.  I then purposely drive near puddles in an attempt to clean my windscreen until I get to a gas station and purchase some overpriced stuff; despite the fact that I remembered to stock up the last time Canadian Tire had a sale on the stuff and it's sitting in my garage

Why is it not in my car you ask? Because inevitably it would have tipped on its side and leaked out all over the car, leaving a lingering stain and smell. Those caps SEEM resealable, but let me tell you, not so much, heck, even new ones have leaked in my car! So instead, I find myself, glaring at my car with about 1/8 of a jug of washer fluid in my hand, wondering who came up with this design anyway!? My solution? Well, if a frustrated Winnipegger ever thrusts you a bit of washer fluid at a gas station and tells you that you might as well use it, that might just be me.

'Tis also that time of year for spring cleaning, an annual (ok, I attempt for annual) tradition of going through the house, room by room and either cleaning or getting rid of crap previously cherished items. Well, this year as you and your friends and families conduct this laborious, time consuming cleansing ritual may I pass on a suggestion or two as to where you bring those unwanted items.

Ideally, one day, I'd like to compile an extremely comprehensive list to distribute the the masses, but here is my personal short list (feel free to add your suggestions in the comments). I have often offered to pick things up myself from friends just to keep it from going to Value Village. There are two main reasons for that, neither of which being a dislike for Big Brothers & Big Sisters or Canadian Diabetes (the charities that they support).

It is my understanding that Value Village essentially buys the donated goods from those two charities (different charities are supported in different regions) and then sells them - for profit. I have read (see this link, read down to the comments section - a reply by someone named Jeff Smail who claims to be a regional director for VV), but have never have been able to verify personally (as these things seem to be kept hush-hush) that they pay the charities by weight, which would make sense - they win some, they lose some. If in those donations are things that are broken, stained etc., VV can't sell them, they suck it up and take the loss. On the other hand, if you donate Grandma's entire estate to the Canadian Diabetes Foundation because she died of complications due to diabetes and you think that you are giving to a cause dear to her, you might not be doing as much good as you had hoped.  For example, lumped into Grandma's things was some costume jewellery that everyone in the family thought was hideous, but it turns out that it was a bunch of signed pieces that are worth hundreds of dollars.  So, Canadian Diabetes gets maybe a dollar (exact amount unknown, that's extra hush hush) and the large multi-national chain gets hundreds.
Example of expensive jewellery that also looks like it could have bought at the dollar store (ok, maybe Claire's)

My second major dislike for VV is because of their prices. Seriously, $7.99 for a used Old Navy shirt? $12.99 for a pair of jeans that were originally from Giant Tiger?? They do know that this stuff isn't new right?? I remember back in the day when VV really was a good deal, now it seems as though if they recognize the brand it is instantly double the price of something without a label. Of course, I have gotten the odd deal there, even in recent years - I got an amazing coat that retails for $400 at boutiques like Cake and October (I saw one of the brand once at Winners and it was still $289!) for $34.99 and it was only a year old (Google knows everything). Clearly it was because it was an obscure brand that I lucked out. So sure, it's handy to bring your stuff to VV, they have long hours and through their "partner" organizations they will even pick up but that warm fuzzy feeling that you're getting from the donation is akin to feeling loved during a one night stand.

If you would like to feel a little less cheap and dirty after your spring clean out, here's my shortlist and a little blurb/link as to what they'll do with the proceeds (if any):
M.C.C (Mennonite Central Committee): Beside all of the work that their thrift stores support, I would in particular direct you to the store on Selkirk Ave - as I believe all of their stores are, it's staffed almost entirely by volunteers who put things at a price point that makes it very affordable for some of Winnipeg's most disadvantaged families.  In particular at the moment they could use some nicer furniture, bric-a-brac and housewares. Go to 511 Selkirk Ave or call 204-586-2527 - They may be able to pick up.
Goodwill Industries - Furniture/Clothing/Housewares - Locations on Portage Ave (near Unicity), Regent Ave (past Plessis), Downtown (Princess St.), Pembina Highway (near Tony Roma's) and St. Annes (just south of Fermor).
Salvation Army -Furniture/Clothing/Housewares - Various locations, personally not a huge fan of giving there due to their fairly high prices. Yeah, it likely goes to a good cause but they could help more people by having lower prices and helping those folks clothe themselves even cheaper. Plus, I'm pretty sure in our over-consuming society they are hardly likely to run out of clothes to sell.
Andrews St. Family Centre (clothing), North Point Douglas Women's Centre (clothing),  Oyate Tipi (clothing/furniture/housewares) - some of the many organizations in the North End that have a clothing room where people can get items they need. Of course, if you have mens clothing both Main St. Project and Siloam Mission would probably appreciate them the most.

A special shout out if you have a recent female grad or maybe even past bridesmaid - Gowns for Grads doesn't seem to have any details available about the program yet for this year, but I imagine a phone call or two could help you find those frocks a fantastic new home.

So, go on, start sniffing the Pine-Sol and bring that stuff down to somewhere where it can do some good! Oh, but if what you were getting rid of includes old arborite kitchen tables or furniture made of fiberglass or acrylic maybe send me a message first... I'll take it off your hands :)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Would you want to live next door to this?

A story of my own to add to ...One Great City and his post about by-law enforcement (his follow up is here). I normally am a big fan of the folks over at by-law enforcement, but I just experienced my own WTF? moment with them.  Earlier this week, I reported a house to 311 that seems to have a roof made out of bright blue tarps, as per the Neighbourhood Liveability By-law, under Part 1, Standards Applicable to All Properties, Division 1 - Basic Maintenance Section 11 - Roofs of Buildings;
11(1) Roofs must be kept in good repair
I was just informed by the by-law officer (admittedly, a kudos goes out for speedy inspection) that there is nothing wrong with having a roof made out of tarps, with pieces of wood nailing it down, because it meets this part of the by-law;
11(2) The obligation in subsection (1) includes the obligation to ensure that
(a) roofs are constructed and maintained so as to prevent moisture from entering the building;
Apparently it does not appear as though this "roof" is leaking, so it's a-ok. I questioned the logic of this and even pointed out that it would seem then, if not violating the roof section of the by-law (wtf?) then it surely must be violating Section 5, General obligation to maintain property, which states:
5. Properties must be maintained so that they do not substantially depreciate the value of other land and buildings in the vicinity.
I got the equivalent of a verbal shrug as a response. Does this strike anyone else as being a bit under-zealous?? Had I known that I could just tarp my leaking roof, I could have saved a couple grand last summer. Heck, if word gets out, Dollarama is going to run out of tarps.

For the record, this house has been tarped like this since at least last fall, this is not a case of a property owner needing a temporary solution to an emergency that just popped up this spring. I also don't live next door, but certainly wouldn't want to!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day (and happy bus drivers!)

A lighthearted post to follow my last one. Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! I think it's my favourite holiday now that Halloween turned slutty. There are no cards to buy, no presents to wrap, basically it is a successful day if you wear green and perhaps drink a little too much (bonus point if the drinks are green). I'm wearing my, once a year, vintage, Kiss Me I'm Irish shirt and my underthings and socks are green. There is a possibility that I'm hosting a meeting today and serving Shepard's Pie, green Kool-Aid and even made a shamrock shaped cake. Ok, so I'm a little over the top, but it's the one day a year when my love of Celtic music isn't out of place.
Kind of a good article to go with the picture if you click here!
In a quick bid for sympathy, I slipped on ice on my stairs this morning as I was leaving the house. Let me suggest that this is not a good plan. I can't sit in my usual office chair, probably for a few days, because of it - it's one of those kneely jobs and I broke the skin open in several places. On the bright side, although the shamrock cake went flying when it happened, it's okay.

I'll leave you with this little bit of Winnipeg nostalgia for the day...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Neighbourhood revitalization funding cuts = bad

Wow, take a few weeks off and see what life piles up for you - and here I thought that life paused while I was on the beach! I will attempt to get back into the blogging of all things Winnipeg/random with increased frequency as it's a personal pet peeve of mine that as soon as you start looking forward to reading a blog, the blogger inevitably stops posting as much.

So the bee in my bonnet today has to do with City Hall.  Last week, at the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development meeting, Councillor Russ Wyatt made the following motion,
That $500,000.00 be allocated from the Housing Rehabilitation
Investment Reserve to the Home Renovation Tax Assistance Program, with the intention of
increasing the maximum allowable credit for the Home Renovation Tax Assistance Program by
50% and the understanding that the expenditures of the balance of the $500,000.00 in the
Housing Rehabilitation Investment Reserve are to be referred to the Winnipeg Housing Steering
Committee for recommendation to the Executive Policy Committee.

See, not cool (more on why a little further down). Now, Councillor Mike Pagtakhan wisely asked to have it recorded that he voted against this motion. Good man. Now for those of you who have never heard of the Home Renovation Tax Assistance Program, let me give you a few details. First, let me say, I happen to think it's a very good program.

The gist of the program is this, if you pop down to the permits office and get permits for your renovation project you can get a percentage of the money you spent back, as a savings on your property tax. Almost all projects are eligible:
  • Standard Renovations – Generally, the following standard renovations are eligible for a 15% tax credit:
    • Renovating kitchens, bathrooms and unfinished basements.
    • Building an addition to a home that will be utilized as a year-round living space.
    • Installing, repairing or upgrading a plumbing system or electrical system or a ventilation system, but not including an air conditioner.
    • Reinforcing or repairing a foundation or basement, including weeping tile, excavation and related landscaping.
    • Home security alarms
    • Installing or repairing exterior sheathing, roofing, shingling, soffits, fascia, eavestroughing, doors or windows (excluding skylight windows).
    • Installing or repairing a water or sewer system, including excavation and related landscaping.
    • Purchasing and installing a low flush toilet.
    • Modifying a home to accommodate a disabled person or renovating for reasons of safety or occupant health.
    • Repairing a home to ensure or maintain compliance with the Maintenance and Occupancy By-Law.
    • Constructing or repairing a deck, verandah or garage.
  • Energy Efficiency Renovations – Generally, the following energy efficiency renovations that meet or exceed Manitoba Hydro Power Smart guidelines are eligible for a 25% tax credit:
    • Renovating an unfinished basement with insulation to the walls and floors.
    • Upgrading a primary heating system.
    • Upgrading an electrical system.
    • Upgrading a ventilation system.
    • Insulating walls and an attic.
    • Upgrading and insulating doors and windows
There are of course a few types of things that are not, also listed on the HRTA page of the City website, my personal favourite being the wallpapering exclusion. All in all, if you meet the criteria,
  • The resident’s home is used solely for residential occupation.
  • The resident’s home must have been built before January 1, 1985.
  • The resident’s home and land on which it is situated has an assessed value not exceeding $192,000.00 in 2010.
it's well worth looking into. What I particularly like about the program is that even if you are doing a project that doesn't require a permit, you can still benefit - so if you're dropping a bundle on re-doing your roof or putting in some new windows you can just sort of get some bonus cash back on your property taxes. You just have to go down and "apply" for a permit (free, since you didn't actually need one) so that they can register your interest or something in the program.

Now, like any good program that involves "free money" it of course runs out. This particular program runs until December 31st, or whenever the funds run out. According to the website, it appears as though they didn't run out until December 3rd. It would appear then that this was almost perfectly adequate funding. So why then does Mr. Wyatt want to move funding from much needed inner-city area revitalization over to this program?

Of course, inner-city residents are more than welcome to take advantage of the HRTA program, however there is one thing that sticks out in my mind as a major barrier. In order to max out the savings they would need to spend $10,000 on regular renovations or $6,000 on energy efficient ones.  The people that are needing the funding from the HRIR to go to the Housing Improvement Zones generally don't have that kind of cash to throw at a renovation.

So where does that leave them? Oh yeah, needing the full million dollars that is usually put into the funding for their neighbourhoods. A press release put out by the various Neighbourhood Renewal Corporations puts it far better than I could hope to explain it, but this does a pretty good job of summarizing why this funding is important:
The HRIR is used by five neighbourhoods with aging housing stock, derelict and boarded buildings, and lower incomes. The neighbourhoods are William Whyte, North Point Douglas, Centennial, Spence, and West Broadway. HRIR is a flexible fund that levers funding from other levels of government and private sources to be used for rehabilitation, infill and exterior fix ups for homeowners and landlords. The current allocation of $1 million dollars towards inner-city renewal is a mere 0.1 % of the operating budget, so already this is a modest investment towards revitalizing our city’s core areas.

But what does it all mean you ask? Well, here's a real world example, me. A few years ago I was in desperate need of eaves troughs, the ones I had were falling off the house and certainly not keeping the water away from the foundation. Because of a modest exterior fix-up grant that was available in my neighbourhood I was able to get them replaced. At that time, I didn't have the money to do it on my own, being a single person and first time homeowner of an 80+ year old property it wasn't a matter of what needed to be fixed, but more what DIDN'T need to be fixed.

So how does this benefit anyone but me in that story, you ask? Well, my increased pride in the appearance of my house helped motivate a neighbour to spruce up their property. How do I know that? Because I feel invested in my house and my neighbourhood, I talk to my neighbours. Was that grant the only reason I talked to my neighbour? Of course not, don't be silly, but it's a piece of the puzzle that will help create a better community in the long run. This funding to the HIZ neighbourhoods is a critical part of revitalizing them and a corner puzzle piece to the Our Winnipeg Plan and it's desire to have complete communties (more about that another time, it's late.)

Wow. What a serious post from me. To lighten the mood, here is a video of perhaps my all-time favourite song. It doesn't really relate to the post at all, except it has the word "Home" in it, but the random train of thought reminded me of another song of theirs entitled "Political" which, to be honest, I have no idea if relates to the post either and I didn't really want to have to find the lyrics and then see if they fit blah blah blah, so instead, have a fun song to make you wiggle your bum a little in your chair.

(The nostalgia tag is because I can't believe how old this song is now!)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

All is quiet on the northern front

I'm a bit torn as to whether I actually believe Murphy's Law exists or not, but to be on the safe side, I'm going to knock on wood before this post, just in case.

As I've mentioned before, I live in the North End - in fact I've just survived celebrated 5 years of living here. I've seen the residents of a few "bad" houses come and go and similar to raespace over at adayinthehood, I always wonder if the new folks that move in will be an improvement or not.  It seems as though some definite movement took place earlier in the week; I never saw a moving truck but the autobins sure did get full.

The house that I've considered to be the worst offender within my line of sight had the tenants seemingly disappear in the middle of the night. I hope they took their dog with them and that's not just because it barked so loud and so often that I called the City to complain - they were awful to that dog (outside all the time on a short leash, well, until the City made them bring it in) and I hope that poor thing hasn't been abandoned inside the house.

I'm really looking forward to spring, the feeling in the air is so full of promise. I'll pick up the garbage that has accumulated on my boulevard, give everything a good sweep and get ready to talk to my neighbours again instead of doing the hurried run from the garage to my front door while trying to ward off frostbite.  There is a duplex going in on a property quite close to mine and I don't even think I'm apprehensive about it. Yes, it will mean more people vying for space in the autobin that I usually use, but it will also mean much needed quality housing for some new people.

As I read more and more of the Winnipeg-related blogs, I continue to have it confirmed for me that we have one heck of a great city to live in, with some fantastically interesting people. The Winnipeg blogging crew seem to generally have far more knowledge and interest in politics than I will ever have so I won't even try to capture all of the same readers that they have, but I hope you will continue to stop by for my version of Winnipeg (even if you all like plain black wheels on your cars, you crazy-practical people!). For all of you who have been patiently waiting for my picture of the ladies urinals at The Bay downtown, I tried to find it earlier tonight (oh yes, I have that kind of excitement in my social calendar) but as it was taken before the digital era I'm having a bit of trouble tracking it down, but fear not, I have not forgotten.

...and remember, help control the pet population, have your pet spayed or neutered

So I think my niche will have to be to provide a lighthearted and quasi-informational view into my version of Winnipeg; my complaint about the house with barking dog reminded me of a fantastic program that is run by the Winnipeg Humane Society. The SNAP program subsidizes the cost of getting your pet spayed or neutered. I think that pet ownership can be a very important part in the quality of life for people and unfortunately there are many folks who have the best intentions to be responsible pet owners when they first get that adorable ball of baby fluff but by the time it comes time to fork out well over $100 to get it fixed... So, if you know of someone who might be hoping that their pet is part of an abstinence pact, and they could perhaps benefit from this program let them know. Sometimes people just feel powerless and since information is power, go on and share a little and help control the pet population.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Winter rims look stupid. Discuss.

Yes, I'm back. I've been back for a few days and just haven't had a chance to get back in to the swing of everything (so my fledgling blog was near the bottom of the list). Just before I got home I thought I should again check up on some of the things happening in our great city. Sadly, the topic that topped the list was the genius of a judge who felt the need to add his two cents on how women basically invite rape by how they dress. Never mind the whole "no means no" idea, or the fact that it was a sentencing hearing and that the jackass had unequivocally been convicted of the crime. I think Ms. Martin over at nothinginwinnipeg sums it up better than any one else with her post here. It blows my mind that this guy didn't lose his job. Immediately. I hear they are going to have some sort of review of the incident or some other b.s., but here, in reality, people get fired for making comments that might be mildly insulting to someone, let alone basically telling all women that they deserve to be raped if they dress a certain way.

These are the same rims the car I pass has in summer
Moving on. So, on my twice-weekly commute from my "real job" to my part-time restaurant job I pass this VW GTI with winter rims. Now, the rims that this particular car has in the summer are hideous in my personal opinion, but that is somewhat besides the point. The winter rims are even worse.
Typical winter rims

Now, going out on a bit of limb here, but in a city where winter tires are required for at least 33% of the year (if  not more) why would you not invest in a nicer set of wheels? Or at least hubcaps? Yet there they are, all over the city, vehicles with ugly ugly plain winter rims. It just makes the car look so unfinished. Okay, so perhaps some people might have an older car and don't want to invest in a nice set of wheels for their winter tires - how about looking on kijiji or calling the Hubcap Man to see if you can't dress them up just a bit. For those out there with a nicer car (including that stupid GTI that I pass all the time, or the Audi TT I've seen cruising around town) - spend the cash and buy a set of nice winter rims. It's like if you were to meet a really attractive girl but she had broccoli in her teeth and had a European attitude towards shaving. She's still really pretty, but now she's just a little less desirable.

Well, now that I've covered one of the hot button topics of modern life (clearly the issue of the winter rims) I think I will go back to trying to read and catch up on all of my favourite blogs. Oh, and I have buy winter tires by next winter, so if I put them on ugly rims you have permission to slap me with a rubber chicken.