Work to move remaining public housing tenants out of a Northview property in Yellowknife has been paused while the coronavirus pandemic grips Canada.
A handful of tenants still remain at Northview’s Bison Hill apartments, unwilling to move to accommodation they perceive to be inferior. Others who have already moved described feeling unsafe in their new accommodation.
The tenants are being told to leave in a so-called renoviction, where they must move out to allow for renovation work.
Most have already moved. The overhaul at Bison Hill forced a mix of private and public housing tenants to relocate elsewhere.
Writing to tenants in October last year, the Yellowknife Housing Authority (YHA) stated its lease on 26 public housing units at Bison Hill would be ending.
Bob Bies, YHA’s chief executive, said it was Northview’s decision not to renew the public housing leases at Bison Hill. Bies told Cabin Radio losing the units had not affected its inventory as Northview provided replacements.
But there was a hiccup to the renoviction plan.
Even though Northview first discussed its plan with YHA in mid-July last year, and 60 days’ notice was provided to the NWT Housing Corporation on August 31, the YHA tenants at Bison Hill didn’t receive proper notice until November 1.
That pushed everything back by months, to the point where some tenants had still to move when the pandemic emerged.
In an interview with Cabin Radio, Northview spokesperson Joel Shaffer said nobody will have to go anywhere during the pandemic – and plans for renovations at Bison Hill are on hold.
Renovation work continues, says tenant
A current public housing resident who asked to remain anonymous says otherwise.
They say work is still going on outside their Bison Hill unit. Though contractors arrived later on Thursday than usual, they believe the work has gone from 12 hours a day to nearly 24 hours a day.
The resident worries that contractors continuing to work in the building during the Covid-19 pandemic might break physical distancing guidelines.
The resident, in their late 60’s, had a stroke two years ago and has underlying health conditions. They were supposed to vacate their unit at the end of January but have remained at Bison Hill. They want YHA to move them to a similar apartment with in-unit laundry.
“At the end of January I had declined one offer [to move to] Simpson House,” they said. “Yellowknife Housing is sort-of concerned about mobility in the sense of getting up stairs. Currently, I would rather accept the challenge of stairs over not having personal laundry.”
They said people have continued to move out of the Bison Hill townhouses even during the pandemic, which they believe poses issues for physical distancing.
“As I came through the parking lot yesterday, there were five different moving [vans]. And in my own building there was a private move last night,” they said.
‘Why has it gotten this bad?’
Another public housing tenant, who asked for anonymity to discuss their living arrangements, was forced to leave Bison Hill for what they feel is a less-than-desirable building elsewhere.
“The public spaces are unsafe in these buildings and this unsafe reality is violating [the Residential Tenancies Act],” they said, “which states it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure these public spaces are safe and aren’t exploited by individuals for drug use or worse.”
The tenant added they and others felt fearful of lodging complaints with the housing authority. They said public spaces at their current building had become overrun by individuals and neglected by Northview, the owner.
“[YHA has] allowed people to exploit the lowered rental costs as trap houses. It’s frustrating when there are people in the program exploiting it and having no responsibility for their actions,” they said.
“If the landlord [is responsible for] who they rent to, and how they hold these people accountable … then why has it gotten this bad?”
‘Nobody will be on the street’
In its October letter to Bison Hill tenants, YHA had offered them freshly painted and renovated replacement units – plus an early-bird offer to any tenant who chose to move quickly. That offer included “first choice on replacement units and a financial incentive.” All moves were to be completed by the end of January.
Six tenants are understood to remain at Bison Hill despite that notice. Bies at YHA said he had not received any schedule from the NWT Housing Corporation for those tenants to move.
“There are a few tenants that we haven’t moved yet since we haven’t been able to find units that accommodate their disabilities,” said Bies. “We are still working on finding suitable replacement units.”
He, like Shaffer, said all moves have been temporarily halted while pandemic restrictions are in place. A timeline to resume has not been worked out.
Northview said things change day by day as federal and territorial governments release new advice and orders.
“What I can say is nobody is going to be on the street,” said Shaffer.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to continue with the renovations during the Covid emergency, but anyone who is involved in that renovation scenario will be taken care of, one way or another.”