Social housing tenant without heat for two years

Steeves Manor construction drags on

An 83-year-old man living in a B.C. Housing complex adjacent to Jericho Park says he didn't have heat in his suite for more than two years due to a construction project that's more than a year past its completion date.

"So I went to the store and bought one of those blue blankets with the sleeves," said Roger Palmer, who's lived at Steeves Manor for 26 years. "And I'm not the only one who didn't have heat."

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Palmer told the Courier the ongoing disruptions have made his life "hell."

In 2009, former premier Gordon Campbell and former MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla Stockwell Day held a press conference at Steeves Manor to announce the complex would be the recipient of renovations totalling $17.74 million. The project includes fire alarms and security upgrades, such as new cameras. Once complete, Steeves will be considered a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design property, which means it uses design, including low bushes and adequate lighting, to "reduce incidence and fear of crime and improve quality of life through use of space and landscaping."

Palmer says the bushes in front of his suite were removed, which combined with the fact he hasn't had blinds on his windows for two years, leaves him in full view of anyone walking along Fourth Avenue.

He said B.C. Housing recently relented and erected a blind in his bedroom for privacy, but he added his living room remains on display to the street.

Palmer was one of many tenants at Steeves directed to box up most of their belongings to minimize damage as work was completed on walls and ceilings and patio doors and windows were replaced. But, Palmer said, despite a stack of notices he's received during the past two years forewarning him of upcoming work to his suite, the work has not been completed.

Palmer, who had a career as a dancer, choreographer and a makeup artist for Global TV, spends his days in front of a TV tray surrounded by boxes.

He's not alone. Steeves tenant Colleen O'Brien's suite has been in similar disarray for the past two years. O'Brien said she and other tenants were forced to give away or dump belongings because their suites are overflowing with boxes.

"And the dust from the construction is making me and lots of other tenants sick," said O'Brien.

No one from B.C. Housing was able to speak on the record, but questions from the Courier were answered through the communications department of the Ministry Responsible for Housing.

B.C. Housing says the retrofit of Steeves is 95 per cent complete and is on budget. While the majority of blue tarps that once covered the building have recently been removed, they cocooned the complex through two summers, including the heat wave of 2010. The email noted balconies and patios not accessible to tenants during the past two years due to construction should open in February.

"Scaffolding is still in areas where stucco is being applied and construction work is still happening in some areas," the email read in part, "thus the area outside the balconies and patios is still considered a work zone."

B.C. Housing also addressed what many tenants are calling an ongoing infestation of bedbugs. That follow-up story will appear in the Courier Jan. 13.

sthomas@vancourier.com Twitter: @sthomas10

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