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Terrified to live in subsidized housing
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 9 juin 2011

Photo: Marie Cicchini

Alana Ronald shows the broken door chain link.

Alana Ronald lives in a fully renovated apartment located at 3095 Bedford Road, in a government-owned building rented out to the most vulnerable people, namely families but including many women or single mothers, with several people dealing with health problems.

The 16-unit building underwent a $1.7 million renovation in a rush to meet a June 2010 deadline. Many would consider the retired ballet teacher lucky to be living there. Currently, some 22,000 households on various eligibility lists are waiting for a low-cost housing unit, but only 2,000 become available each year. Ronald was on top of the priority list because her home in NDG was gutted by fire, and she moved in on Sept. 1 last year.

Struggling with a heightened sense of vulnerability, the Jewish widow told the Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal (OMHM) how highly reluctant she was to settle in this densely populated area.

She pointed out the irony of the laudatory description of the building found in the OMHM’s glossy Rose des Vents magazine.

On September 8, she came face to face with a female intruder wandering around her place at 2:30 in the morning. Her dog never barked to warn her. Although terrified, Ronald maintained casual conversation with the 25 to 30-year-old trespasser, who appeared to be under the influence of drugs. It turns out that the small woman prowler, nicknamed ‘Patricia from Barbados,’ was already known to police for this type of behaviour in the neighbourhood.

Ronald had previously reported that the lock on the main entrance to the apartment had been improperly installed, causing the door to open with a light push or a gust of wind.

A second break-in attempt was made through her bedroom window, and there were four more attempts by someone on September 21, five days after Ronald had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She had security bars installed to prevent entry through her ground-level windows. Mario Scali, head of maintenance, managed to put up a security fence in December, and three weeks after Mrs. Ronald had installed hers, put up bars on the windows of two ground level apartments.

As for maintenance, the building appears to be abandoned. Twelve of the 16 tenants signed a letter to the OMHM on September 22 concerning access to the building. “The laundry room was broken into five times, as the machines are coin-operated and thieves know there are no janitors on the premises,” says Ronald, who has been constantly calling security.

Another tenant, Jean-Guy, a resident since May, 2010, witnessed a woman slip and fall with her baby on the snow-covered steps. “I bought a bag of salt and I’ve been spreading it. We’ve had a new janitor whose name is William and he’s much better,” he says. “No one before William cleaned or swept. A couple of tenants have been doing it, but only on the main floor,” adds Ronald.

The 16 tenants rely on one janitor who is also responsible for at least six OMHM buildings. “Why doesn’t the City of Montreal have a bylaw restricting the number of buildings a janitor can have on his roster?” asks Ronald.

In a letter dated December 26 to the building inspector and to the OMHM, Ronald mentioned several problems: defective lighting fixtures at the front and back of the building; a defective front door lock; a malfunctioning intercom system; undeliverable mail; the lack of recycling bins, to name a few.

One morning Ronald, medicated for Crohn’s disease, woke up suddenly to Guardex men who were trying to enter her apartment in the morning instead of the afternoon as had been told. Terrified, she yelled at the men to go away, thinking they were intruders, but they broke the door’s chain lock and walked in to carry out their inspection.

In her opinion, there should be more consideration for the safety and dignity of tenants in this type of building.

The Quebec Rental Board, the City of Montreal building inspectors, the OMHM, and the OEIL, an organization that looks into housing problems, are all aware of the problems.

[ Marie Cicchini ]

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