Of all the days in nearly a decade’s-worth of issues with management at Eastern Mainland Housing, it’s Jan. 24, 2019, that stands out most for John Anderson.
Anderson, 62, is a palliative care patient, and is visited by VON nurses three days per week.
He has been living in the units at Autumn Crest in New Glasgow since 2009. The Eastern Mainland Housing Authority is responsible for the management of properties like Autumn Crest throughout Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties.
Since 2009, Anderson says he has had his concerns over safety and accessibility in his unit stalled by property management.
He isn’t the only one who has had concerns, but Anderson is one of the few tenants willing to say anything about it.
“They’re afraid to rock the boat,” says Bill VanGorder, who sits on the national board for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) – an advocacy organization for Canadians over the age of 50.
“What we hear anecdotally, but many times from all over the province, is that people are afraid to speak up because they’re afraid they’ll get kicked out,” said VanGorder. “They’re afraid to make waves because, for many of these people, it’s their only choice for places to live.
When the Andersons first moved into their current apartment in 2016, the bathroom did not have grip bars. Also, the shower did not have a balance valve installed, so when the neighboring or downstairs units turned on their hot water the temperature in the Anderson’s shower would also increase.
John put in a request to have drip bars and the balance valve put in, but nothing was done.
The Regional Housing Authority’s Maintenance Response Guidelines do not classify these concerns as being urgent and, therefore, could take up to 10 days to complete.
Not wanting to wait any longer, John asked to have the work done himself at a personal cost of nearly $1,500.
The Regional Housing Authority has a chart outlining its maintenance response guidelines. Matters are prioritized as scheduled, regular, urgent and emergency. Appliances which need repair or minor plumbing concerns like a sluggish drain are prioritized in this chart as being regular with a standard response time of 24 hours and a resolution of the complaint within 10 days.
Situations that classify as emergencies, such as fires, floods or a mould assessment, are charted as having a response time of one hour or less.
“The Eastern Mainland Housing Authority takes concerns raised by our tenants very seriously and we make considerable effort to address issues in a timely manner,” said Heather Fairbairn, on behalf of the EMHA. “Guidelines are in place to help housing authority staff prioritize and respond to maintenance issues within appropriate timelines.”
Property managers also have regularly scheduled bi-weekly meetings with tenants to help resolve concerns that may fall outside of the chart and which might arise from disputes between tenants.
But when those disputes between tenants are over an issue which technically constitutes a fire hazard as outlined in the buildings’ fire plans, such as personal belongings being piled in hallways and unit doors being left open, tenants say the response is hit and miss.
$1.86 million has been budgeted for Eastern Mainland Housing’s regular maintenance and repairs in the 2018/19 fiscal year.
Not long after the shower issues, Anderson experienced health complications associated with diabetic neuropathy which is a kind of nerve damage that can develop in people with diabetes. He had ulcers on both feet and was using a wheelchair.
According to the Andersons, one of the property managers with Eastern Mainland Housing told them in order to have a ramp put in, it would have to first be approved by the fire inspector.
“Then, after he (the fire inspector) came up and gave me the okay on it, he (the property manager) said that the town engineer had to come up,” said Anderson. “There was always an excuse if I wanted to do something.”
“In the end, Anderson’s brother in-law built him a ramp.
“I called (the property manager) and said that the ramp is in, and then he said that we’d have to clear it with the insurance.”
He is out of his wheelchair now, but he keeps the ramp in the yard just in case.
‘My head was just spinning’
On Jan. 24, 2019, the property manager came into the Anderson’s apartment and gave John a transfer request form.
“He threw it at me, and I threw it over there,” added John, pointing to a place on the ground next to the easy chair in the living room.
This visit was unexpected, to say the least. One week earlier the same person had told the Andersons their bathtub was going to be replaced. They had recently made the request because the grips on the bottom of the tub had been completely worn away.
The Andersons were told the transfer request form was the result of noise complaints. The Andersons have a six-year old grandson who visits on Tuesdays between 6:50 and 9:30 p.m. and again on Sundays from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
“When he came in and threw that paper at me, that was the end of the line,” said Anderson. “I was backed in a corner and it was time for me to start fighting.”
But first, he had to get calm.
“I got stressed,” said John, his voice catching slightly. “I can’t help. I can’t pack. I can’t lift. And I can’t afford to move. Like I said, I got stressed, until a friend and I had a talk and cleared my head. My head was just spinning, and when I talked to her I got my head straight, the anxiety went away and then I got things rolling. I could think and know what I had to do.”
John says he spoke with MLA Sean Fraser, as well as the director or Eastern Mainland Housing, Leland Muse. Muse was unable to comment for privacy reasons, but Anderson said Muse confirmed the noise complaints were because of their grandson’s visits, but that this did not constitute grounds for relocation.
Muse also confirmed to Anderson that a new tub will be installed within three to five weeks.
The property manager did not return multiple calls from The News with requests for comment.
‘You got a mouth. Use it.’
“They can’t evict you for complaining,” said Anderson. “They can’t put you out.”
But VanGorder says it’s a natural fear for some to feel like they shouldn’t rock the boat.
“It probably depends on the person that they’re directly dealing with in terms of whether or not they feel it’s a threat. But there’s no legal way, and certainly no ethical way, that someone can be turfed out of their apartment because they’re asking for service and support that they genuinely need.”
“You got a mouth. Use it,” says Anderson.