KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Windows that don’t close properly, steps that look like you easily could fall through them, mould on walls, those are just some of the things that are wrong with the house Donna Fralick-Maguire and Brent Maguire rent in Sheet Harbour.
Then there is the septic tank. Their landlord needs a lot of prodding before he sends somebody to pump it. When it takes too long the tank backs up into a sink in the basement. Once it ruined the washer, and they had to put it out with the garbage.
That landlord is the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, public housing in other words, the responsibility of Kelly Regan, the Minister of Community Services.
There is more.
The mechanics of the toilet flusher are faulty. The stove is ancient and falling apart.
A window is cracked. The gutter is rotten, sagging and leaking. In winter the water comes pouring down from above the front door. Then it freezes up, and the pathway turns into a slippery rink. “You can’t use the front door then,” says Brent.
Donna and Brent like living in Sheet Harbour. They moved into their home in 2004. Before that they lived in Dartmouth for a while, but that life wasn’t for them. Even though they live some distance from the town, and shopping and meetings with their caseworker are difficult without a car, they manage. “It’s good. I grew up in this area,” Donna says.
But as much as they like living here, the house is a constant source of stress for the couple.
One big worry is the power bill, says Donna, given the state of the windows. Until recently power was included in the rent, but has now become the responsibility of the family. With Community Services financial support they’re on a $249 a month budget plan, which they fear isn’t near enough.
“I’d rather make sure the windows work right. I don’t want to go over what we pay now, because then we have to take it out of your food budget, and that will make it even harder,” Donna says.
Getting the Housing Authority to pay attention is a constant uphill battle, Brent says.
“When you call you’ll get someone who will take your complaint, and then when you call them a couple of days later, they say contact the (local contracted) worker who is supposed to do it. We shouldn’t have to do that, they should know when he is coming.”
A horror story all on its own is the septic tank. It backs up frequently into a basement room used for laundry, and leaves a terrible smelly mess.
In 2015 Donna called the Housing Authority about the sewage build up, and told them that they had to get their septic tank pumped.
“They put me through to the maintenance manager. We couldn’t use the water, it was an emergency. He couldn’t tell us when he would be coming. He told us to get a bucket and do our business in a bucket,” Donna says.
This year a similar story. The septic tank was backing up into the house, and Brent called after hours repairs for somebody to come and pump the tank. They assured him someone was going to come. The Housing Authority ended up sending a puzzled and useless repair man, rather than the septic pumping service they needed, Brent says.
Mould is another great worry for the family. They moved their bed into the living room because of the pervasive mouldy smell in their bedroom. Typically the maintenance worker just paints over the mouldy growths. Or they’ll use spray paint. Not surprisingly, it keeps returning, Donna and Brent say.
Heather Fairbairn, media relations advisor for Community Services, cannot speak to the couple’s specific complaints.
“While we can’t comment on specific cases, we can say that the safety and well-being of our tenants is a top priority for Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority (MRHA). We take all complaints received from tenants very seriously and staff do their best to complete the necessary work in a timely manner,” Fairbairn writes.
“We are committed to ensuring that all of our units are in good condition and with the support of our federal partners we are investing approximately $18 million into the maintenance of Nova Scotia’s public housing stock,” she writes.
“We regret any situation where a tenant may have had a negative experience. If a tenant has issues with their unit, we encourage them to contact their property manager for assistance.”
It’s not like Donna and Brent haven’t tried that.
“Housing never comes and checks things out, they never do an inspection or anything,” says Donna. “You call them, and you get these rude people, they say, we know about it. Well, all I know is that they’re not coming to fix it.”
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