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North Vancouver seniors housing neglected and rotting

Residents demand improvement from non-profit and BC Housing

It was built with the promise of giving seniors a safe and affordable place to live. But after years of neglect, Lynn Valley’s Silverlynn Apartments is dilapidated and rotting.

“It's despicable. I don't invite my friends here. It's that embarrassing,” said resident Peter Phelan, 89. “It's a total fire hazard.”

Although it is subsidized by BC Housing, the building on 27th Street, near Lynn Valley's town centre, has been the responsibility of the non-profit Lowland Senior Citizens’ Housing Society since it was constructed in 1979.

Phelan has been meticulously documenting the building’s obvious deficiencies for years, and asking BC Housing and Lowland to fix them.

The paint on the exterior walls is peeling away and there are signs of rot on the walls and balconies. In one spot near a side entrance, the wooden cladding has opened up, exposing the insulation and rotting studs underneath.

One third-floor resident recently had her ceiling partially collapse due to water damage. Phelan’s son spoke with the resident and learned she had been collecting drips in a bucket under the ceiling for the last two years.

Garbage bins in common areas sometimes go unemptied for weeks, Phelan said, and there are rats in the building.

Recently, the society put a coat of blue paint over the exterior, but only on the walls that face the street and a townhouse complex next door.

“It’s absolutely abhorrent to have a place, especially in a lovely area like Lynn Valley, as despicable as this place is,” Phelan said.

According to the District of North Vancouver, the building has had a visit from an inspector, who is now working with the owner “to address some deficiencies.”

The non-profit’s 2019 charitable tax records show they have received an average of about $386,000 in government subsidies per year, going back to 2016, on top of about $400,000 per year collected in rents.

The society lists one full-time employee on staff in 2019 and five part-time staff, with a total compensation of $94,045, but Phelan said they rarely see the manager around the building.

In a statement, BC Housing acknowledged “it’s unacceptable when buildings fall into disrepair,” and that the agency “works closely" with non-profit housing operators to make sure both routine maintenance and capital repair projects are carried out.

“We are aware of resident concerns about the deteriorating situation at Silverlynn, a building that is more than 40 years old. We are working closely with the Lowland Senior Citizens’ Housing Society, who operate the residence and are responsible for its maintenance, to ensure seniors have a safe place to live,” the statement read. “The Lowland Senior Citizens’ Housing Society is under an operating agreement with BC Housing to operate affordable seniors housing and maintain Silverlynn. BC Housing is in discussions with the society around funding for renovations to ensure Silverlynn can continue to provide affordable seniors housing for many years to come.”

Reached for comment, Silverlynn manager John North said the building has been needing work for about 10 years but there was no budget to do so.

“The government’s wheels don’t spin as fast as we would like,” he said. “We are finally at the point where [BC Housing] has forwarded paperwork for us to sign off on and they're in the process of putting together a program to fix it, for lack of a better description.”

North said he expects a consultant to be seeking bids soon, with work likely to start in the spring. And Lowland is grateful for the funding, he added.

While the work is done, the current residents will not be renovicted, North said.

North said he understands some residents have lost patience with the state of their home.

“We have a very limited budget for all of our stuff and just try staying on top of everything as best we can,” he said.

Phelan said he’s been told for at least three years that repairs are coming, but without more active management and care by Lowland, Silverlynn will only show its neglect in other ways.

“There's no one here looking after the building. You can spend all the money in the world on the outside of the building, but the inside will be just as terrible. … It’s throwing good money after bad,” he said. “The people in this building deserve more.”

North Vancouver-Seymour NDP MLA Susie Chant said she knows the building well, both from her time as a nurse visiting clients there, and with visiting friends.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. It’s an old building,” she said. “I'm very glad the Phelan family has reached out.”

Chant said she has personally raised the matter with BC Housing and expects to see the issues resolved.

“I’m a dog with a bone. You're not allowed to tell me things like that, and then not have things happen,” she said. “I will also be expecting the proof in the pudding, and we'll be watching to ensure things do happen. Or I’ll be asking further questions.”

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