Centennial ORS heating systems fail during BC cold snap

Older buildings often feature single-glazed windows, thin insulation, aging radiators and inadequate electrical systems

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Helen Harvey has always been cold in the Downtown Eastside SRO where she lives, but says it was downright cold during last week’s cold snap.

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“The pipes are hot but no hot air is coming out of the radiator,” the 34-year-old said of her bedroom in the private Wonder Rooms.

After the wind chill brings temperatures down to -20 in Vancouver and endlessly in sight of the cold, housing advocates are calling on private landlords and the province to make the necessary fixes for one-bedroom hotels now housing thousands of residents who would otherwise risk living on the streets.

“It’s time for people living in ORS to be taken more seriously as citizens with rights,” said Fiona York, who knows seven Vancouver rooming houses with heat issues. “The government has long neglected the purchase and maintenance of PBOs. Many people who live there have health problems and need a warm and safe environment. “

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For Harvey, Christmas this year has been much colder than expected. She snuggled up under layers of blankets with her partner to keep warm inside.

“This place isn’t worth the $ 775 we pay every month,” said Harvey, who continues to seek the warmth of a hot meal away from his third-floor room at 50 East Cordova St. The hotel, built in 1912, owned and operated by Laurelwood Ventures Inc.

“I installed a hotplate, but every time I use it the circuit breaker shorted.”

Inge Trotskaia was among the residents of Hotel Patricia who felt the frost as the heating systems were unable to cope with the recent cold snap.
Inge Trotskaia was among the residents of Hotel Patricia who felt the frost as the heating systems were unable to cope with the recent cold snap. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

About 55% of the city’s SRO venues are privately owned, including Wonder Rooms, with the remaining 45% owned and operated by government or non-profit organizations.

Postmedia has made several efforts to reach Laurelwood Ventures.

Kirstine Fuhrmann, who lives in one of three hotels the province bought for $ 75.5 million for supportive housing in April, used hot hand sanitizer above her radiator in order to stay warm.

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“My dogs were shaking,” said the 46-year-old woman who was homeless before entering the provincially subsidized housing program at the Patricia Hotel, for which she pays $ 375 per month. Built in 1912, the hotel is operated for the province by Atira Property Management.

“As of yesterday, the heating had not worked for more than 24 hours in my room,” said Inge Trotskaia, who also lives at Hotel Patricia.

BC Housing, which has more than a dozen hotels in Vancouver offering social housing, including the Patricia, said the hotel’s boiler system, typically set at 21 ° C, is only able to provide ‘partial heat to tenants.

In an email, the government agency said it plans to fund “major repairs” to the heating system and “is doing what we can to minimize the impact on residents by providing blankets on demand.” but wait for the weather to improve before shutting down the boilers. for fixes. When he bought the hotel, he made urgent repairs, such as new floors, and painted and other upgrades while planning major upgrades.

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Lack of heat is a common complaint in many ORSs, according to the City of Vancouver, which operates more than 1,000 non-market housing units and monitors building compliance with regulations through annual inspection and monitoring of resident complaints. .

The private operators of the Wonder Rooms have complied with city regulations when operating the buildings’ heating systems, said Saul Schwebs, the city’s chief building manager. Same thing with the Atira staff at the Patricia hotel.

Instead, there is another issue that is causing the heating issue. “From inspections carried out by city staff this week, we found that most ORS heating systems are working, some units have radiators that do not radiate heat due to a build-up of sediment in them. water pipes, ”said Schwebs.

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Plus, the hotel’s electrical systems aren’t equipped to power the appliance rooms at once, Schwebs said. “ORSs, as old masonry buildings, were built 100 years ago when people weren’t using toasters and microwaves. “

Tenants, including Ives Malapad, plugged in low-wattage heaters in an attempt to avoid the cold, but were warned by building staff.

“I bought a mini heater during the cold snap, I was told I couldn’t use it because it would blow the circuit breaker,” said the 38-year-old woman, who lives at the Patricia hotel. since April as part of the temporary housing of BC Housing. program. “All I can use to heat my room are candles. “

The dormitory-style hotel has not benefited from upgrades to aging infrastructure, which includes single-glazed windows and thin wall insulation.

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Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Property Management, which operates the Patricia Hotel, told Postmedia that it is nearly impossible to properly maintain and manage adequate social housing in century-old buildings when welfare rates are low. as low as they are.

“It’s systemic,” Abbott said in September. “I’m not sure if there is a right way to do things that meets all the complex, complicated and competing regulatory requirements and human requirements of these buildings. Ultimately, it is not adequate housing.

The freezing temperatures that brought snow to much of the province last week have led to an increase in 911 calls, according to the British Columbia Emergency Health Services. Paramedics responded to 50 hypothermia and frostbite emergencies between Dec. 25-28, including 21 in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health areas.

“It was the people without adequate heating or homelessness who suffered,” said Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC. “When the core body temperature gets too cold, people lose consciousness, and their heart and respiratory rates drop dramatically.”

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