featured Poverty

No heat! Furnace problems experienced by public housing tenants far from resolved

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Something is wrong with the way heating problems are dealt with at  the public housing complex on Greystone Drive in Spryfield.

Earlier we wrote about six families who were without heat for 36 hours. We asked a spokesperson for Kelly Regan, the Community Services minister responsible for the Housing Authority, why it took so long, and we were told it was the strong winds during the early January “weather bomb” that made the furnace go out.

The problem is that the furnace kicked the bucket twelve hours before that storm arrived. It wasn’t windy at the time.

Photo Àmilia Williams

Now it seems furnace problems are much more widespread than Community Services is willing to admit.

Two more residents in the area have come forward to tell us about lengthy furnace outages they experienced, not once but multiple times.

“The sad thing is, we have a family here with five young children, including babies.”

Bernice, a long time resident of Greystone, was without heat in November 2017, starting Friday in the early evening all the way until late Sunday. And by the way, we can’t reveal Bernice’s real name for privacy reasons.

After several calls she went to bed, after being assured that help was on its way.

“I have my grandson and my daughter here for the weekend. So we hunker down, they’ll come in the next couple of hours, time we get up there’ll be heat again. Well, let me tell you, by the time we woke up it was twice as cold,” Bernice says.

That was only the beginning. Bernice first reported the problem Friday night at 7 PM, and after numerous calls somebody finally arrived Sunday in the late afternoon.

In Bernice’s case the oil tank was empty, something that seems to be a frequent occurrence. More about that later.

It should be noted that in Greystone Drive each furnace serves six units. It wasn’t just Bernice and her grandson who were shivering that weekend.

“The sad thing is, we have people here with three very young kids, and then we have a family with five young children, including babies. Both families are newcomers,” says Bernice. “This is not acceptable. Some of the people, they don’t want to complain. and they don’t know who to call. But they pay rent, and they have a right to have heat.”

“Maybe nobody cares because we are not as well off as everybody else. That’s almost how I feel.”

Cammie McLaughlin’s family has lived on Greystone for almost eight years. Her husband has a full time job, and they pay full rent.

Every winter the family has been without heat for 24 hours at least once, Cammie says. Early in 2017 she went through a ten-day span where she only had heat for three days or so. Her newborn baby was just a couple of months old at the time. Her son’s bedroom has no heat at all, the contractor has been in to look at it four times by now, but it isn’t fixed.

Actually, Cammie thought that compared to other years things were going pretty well in 2017, until the heat went out early on a bitterly cold December 31st. It took 24 hours for a fuel truck to arrive and for the contractor to do his thing. That wasn’t the end of the ordeal though.

The contractor was In and out of the furnace room in 10 seconds,” she says. “We waited an hour, but the heaters were just lukewarm, you could hardly feel the heat. We waited and waited, call them again and again. To this day I have never seen somebody come back. My heat works now, but only if its on high. We’re either boiling or freezing.”

“I love living here, says Cammie. The new property manager, she is great. Our community officer is amazing and does what she can for everybody. That helps. But it’s different with stuff breaking down inside your unit. Heat in the winter is a necessity.”

“We live in public housing, more times than not it’s low income, maybe nobody cares because we are not as well off as everybody else. That’s almost how I feel,” Cammie says.

We asked Community Services why units run out of oil so frequently, something that with some checking and scheduling can so easily be prevented. And we asked about the ongoing issues with the contractor in charge of dealing with heating issues.

“Metro Regional Housing Authority has resolved heating problems that arose while replacing and relocating oil tanks at several buildings in  Greystone.  A new oil supplier was also experiencing problems scheduling automatic oil deliveries that, resulted in some fuel runouts. Metro Regional Housing Authority is working with its supplier to ensure reliable service in the future,” writes Bruce Nunn, spokesperson for the department.

It’s a work in progress, apparently.

Àmilia Williams, the Greystone tenant we  featured in our earlier story about lengthy furnace problems, reports that on January 21 she had no heat once again. The oil had run out…

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One Comment

  1. SOME? Oh my… i am sittig here laughing at the down play on this issue. Tenants here have experienced ON GOING heating issues. Theres no “some” about it when there’s not heat constantly for the last few years. This is a chronic problem! There are people here who work full time and deserve as much respect as the rest of us…problem is housing treats all with as little as possible.
    Times up for housing…. Application for direction will be printed up for those who want it and i will be assisting those who want to file, and I know a few of us who will be demanding compensation for this on going issue. If they don’t want to pay for it everytime this happens then FIX the problem … Don’t pass it off as a minor inconvience to the tenants.

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