The space is about the size of a large storage locker, located atthe end of a hallway with dirty, scuff-marked walls, and part ofthe entry door is boarded up. But to Wayne Gaskin, it is a room of his own and he is happy tohave it. Gaskin, 45, is a resident of the Hazelwood, a 100-year-old buildingon East Hastings used by BC Housing as subsidized single-roomaccommodation for low-income clients. It is one of 13 suchbuildings scheduled to be renovated in the coming months at a costof $116 million $87 million of which will come from the provinceand $29 million from the federal government. |
Inside, the hallways are well lit by the bare fluorescent bulbs inthe ceiling and the space is well ventilated, although a mildlyacidic smell can be detected in places. Several wooden door frameson one floor are damaged, particularly around the knobs, and a fewdoors are boarded up with plywood. The age of the building is one factor that makes repairs therechallenging and expensive, said Elizabeth Hardy, program manager atthe Hazelwood, which is run by Atira Property Management. There are110 units in the building, and the aging pipes were not designed todeal with that kind of volume, Hardy explained. Backed-up toilets or showers cause flooding about once a month, andmaintenance teams have to break down asbestos-containing walls inorder to get at the pipes, which is both time-consuming and costly.
There is also damage inflicted by the tenants themselves, some ofwhom don t have the ability to keep a room in working order due tomental health challenges, Hardy said. In one recently vacated roomthat measured about 10 feet by 12 feet and contained a closet and asink, the grey tile floors were covered with paint and old chewinggum, the baseboard heater had been pulled out of the wall, andwires dangled from where light fixtures had once been. Pest control reports obtained by The Vancouver Sun also indicatethat insects have been a persistent problem at the Hazelwood. Areport dated Aug.
30, 2012 indicated that 31 of the 110 unitscontained live bed bugs. Several of the affected units had beenidentified by contractor Bugs Be Gone as being infested as far backas May 2011. Hardy described pest control as an ongoing challenge experienced by operators of all single-room occupancy hotels inVancouver. There are times when pest control companies are refusedentry to the rooms by tenants or can t enter because the rooms aretoo cluttered, she said. Even with all its problems, Gaskin said he much prefers theHazelwood to his previous accommodation in homeless shelters.
Smallas the room is, it is his own space, with a television and a doorthat locks, he said. Because details of the contract are still being finalized, thetimeline and cost for the Hazelwood s renovation are unclear, BCHousing vice-president of operations Craig Crawford said in astatement. The upgrade will include seismic stabilizing, newdrywall, floor resurfacing, and new plumbing and electricalfixtures. BC Housing finds other accommodation for tenants of buildings whocannot stay on-site during renovations. They are able to return totheir original building when the renovations are complete if theywish, Crawford said.
Renovations made a big difference at the St. Helen s Hotel on theGranville strip, said program manager Ceone Veldman. The 96-unitSt. Helen s used to be really gross, with carpets that weredifficult to fully clean, and Veldman, an asthmatic, said she foundit physically difficult to be in the building.
The St. Helen s, also managed by Atira, was renovated between 2008and 2010 at a cost of $6.7 million. The ceilings are now higherthan at the Hazelwood, the paint job largely unmarred, the lightsoftened by covered fixtures, and the doors open and shut with akey-card lock. There are more bathrooms and showers per floor withnewer fixtures. The rooms also feel bigger.
Resident Martin Filby has space for amedium-sized TV, a small fridge, a table, a sink, his bed and ascratching post for his black cat, King. Filby, who is 36 and moved into the St. Helen s from the OccupyVancouver encampment, said it is the best single-room accommodationhe has stayed in in Vancouver. While he has seen both bedbugs andmice there though not in his own room pests are much lessprevalent at the St.
Helen s than other places he has lived. Filby receives a small honorarium to do some cleaning at the hoteland said he has seen some nasty stuff there, especially in thebathrooms. This is mostly due to the tenants, many of whom strugglewith physical and mental health issues as well as addictionchallenges, he said. We re all on different scales here.
Some people don t know howto look after themselves and some people do. And I think the onesthat do can show the ones that don t how to have pride in yourfloor. Filby, who struggled with mental health and substance-abusechallenges but has now been clean for two years, sees the St.Helen s as a stepping stone on the path to putting his life backtogether. He hopes to get back into his old line of work as a cook. I m settling down ..
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