featured Poverty

Public housing tenants left without heat for 36 hours, blame contractor

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It took contractors working for the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority 36 hours to restore heat in a 6-unit building in the Greystone Drive area in Spryfield. The Housing Authority blames the high winds of the January “weather bomb” for causing the furnace problems. Problem with that response is that it wasn’t windy when the furnace died.  

Greystone Drive subdivision. Photo Robert Devet

Àmilia Williams, who lives in the building that was affected, says that there often are problems with contractors who maintain the units on behalf of the Housing Authority. Indeed, the Nova Scotia Advocate over the last few years has heard from public housing tenants in rural Nova Scotia, Halifax, and elsewhere who have made similar accusations.

Williams says that when she called the Metro Housing Authority in the very early morning of January 4 she felt her complaint was shrugged off.

“They said you’re the only one complaining about it. Nobody came. At 1:30 in the morning I called again. I said it is really cold here, somebody has to come,” Williams says.

“I took the vent off my dryer, turned it around and turned that thing on. It helped keep our place warm enough that we didn’t freeze, we bundled up in longjohns, and pajamas and extra clothes. We stayed warm enough,” says Williams.

Not just Williams was affected, her neighbours as well struggled to keep warm on the night of January 4, when temperatures fell well below zero.  

“Another neighbour who was also without heat for 36 hours, she has kids all under age five. My next door neighbour had no heat, she left and stayed with her mom’s. The lady next to me is all by herself. She was studying for exams, she couldn’t deal with it, she bought a heater to keep warm. Another tenant has three girls, she had to send them all out of town so they could keep warm,” Williams says.

Bruce Nunn, speaking on behalf of Community Services and the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, writes that records show that immediately after William’s call the heating contractor was contacted and that the company assessed the furnace early that morning, January 4th.

“Problems with the heating system were as a result of the extraordinarily high wind conditions which intermittently interfered with the operation of the heating system on January 4th and early morning of January 5th,” Nunn writes.

However, historic weather records for the early morning of January 4, at which time the furnace had already died, show winds between 14 and 24 km per hour in the Halifax area. A bit breezy, yes, but the “extraordinarily high wind conditions” started only in the run of the afternoon.

“The tenant has advised she was very satisfied with the service provided by the contractor on the 5th,” writes Nunn.

Not so, says Williams.

“It makes no sense why they respond like this.I am just so frustrated with it all. The Housing Authority was only told I was satisfied with the last person who came to check my heaters, after the heat was restored. I told him the last fellow did a good job,” says Williams.

“I said I was glad it was fixed but very disappointed that someone else wasn’t dispatched when the company failed to meet its contractual obligation,” Williams says.

Click here to read the full response by Community Services

See also: Metro Housing Authority to public housing tenants: “We will try to do better”

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