It’s usually late at night – around 9 or 10 p.m. – when Faith Liddie does her laundry at her apartment building.
That’s generally the only time at The Washington Inn when the year-long tenant admits to feeling scared.
Liddie says when she first moved into the BC Housing-owned apartment building on Ryan Road, it was a good place to live. As a student at North Island College, her maximum monthly rent budget was $600; she found her second-floor studio suite for $585 a month.
“It was good – efficient – no problems. The rules were set down. I signed a lease that stated you couldn’t be involved in vandalism, drugs (and) assaults against tenants would be a violation of your lease.”
Late last year, things began to change.
There were neighbours who didn’t heed to the noise control, she explains. So she made numerous complaints, and on two occasions, called the police.
There were also street drugs that began circulating.
“At one time, I had an incident with one individual. I don’t know where he was from, (but) he wanted to get into the building and we were told not to let him in. I found out later that he was someone who facilitates drugs.”
She notes there have been people who wait at the side door by the adjacent Mex Pub who have snuck in and out. She adds there have also been individuals who wait at the side door by the office, who have been brought into the building.
“Even the people who have mental health issues don’t want to have to deal with that environment. With drugs come problems, and there’s fights and stuff like that,” said Liddie.
Two weeks ago, an individual knocked on Liddie’s apartment door. She says he continued knocking on other tenants’ doors, and she quickly discerned he was trying to sell drugs.
“I kind of put two and two together of who he was, and I like to live safe. I know people, they have to make a living, but … I lived in the States and I know drugs is big money, but don’t bring it in here. There’s elderly people, people with disabilities, people with mental health problems that want to live in a safe and clean environment.”
She smells marijuana quite often within the hallways, and knows many of her neighbours who put blankets near their door to block out the smell from entering their suites; she understands many people use the drug for medical reasons, but she takes issue when it infringes upon personal space.
“When you walk in the building, you don’t want to smell pot.”
Comox Valley RCMP Const. Rob Gardner says while police have seen an increase of calls for service at The Washington Inn, the calls are not related to reports of drug issues. He says the majority of calls received there are ‘assistance’ calls.
Last September, the provincial government announced they had purchased the apartment complex – the largest in the City of Courtenay – to preserve affordable housing within the city.
There are 120 residential apartments, which includes 111 bachelor suites and nine one-bedroom suites.
BC Housing is the Crown corporation responsible for managing and administrating subsidized housing across the province.
It states on its website the mission is to make a difference in people’s lives and communities through safe, affordable and quality housing.
Liddie questions the agency’s work so far, since the purchase. She says there hasn’t been much of a difference within the building, other than cosmetic work in the hallways – new carpet, tiling and laminate flooring.
“There’s individuals that live without a fridge, no heating, problems with their suites … (there’s) a suite that has mould in it; it’s not a safe suite. Yes, it is affordable housing … people on pensions or on disabilities need to be in a safe environment and don’t have to worry about the trafficking of drugs or the fighting.”
She adds she’s been without heat since January, and since then, has been using either her stove or portable heaters to heat her suite. She admits it could be worse – her neighbour who is in her ‘60s has never had heat in her suite.
“We had summers in Detroit – and I’ve travelled to different parts – I’ve been to New York, and I never thought Canada would get this bad. It’s not bad, it’s just the basic essentials. Heat is an essential. I can’t live without water and heat, and people go home and think BC Housing is taking over and it’s all good, but I know the portfolio manager is going to say it’s a slow process, but how slow of a process was it to rip out carpet and put new flooring in instead of fixing suites?”
According to BC Housing, there was a concern last September that the complex would be sold to a private purchaser and redeveloped, potentially impacting tenants. When the agency purchased the complex, it ensured rental rates remained the same and no one was displaced.
A spokeswoman for the agency says since the purchase of The Washington Inn, BC Housing has been upgrading units as they turn over.
“BC Housing has already invested considerable upgrades to common area flooring, paint and laundry facilities, and has evaluated what upgrades need to be made; BC Housing will continue to invest in renovations and regular maintenance of the building,” the spokeswoman said in an email to The Record.
She added the agency has not received complaints of a lack of heating within individual units, and is not aware of any heating issues in the building.
The spokeswoman admitted it has received multiple complaints of drug use, and is working with the local RCMP detachment to respond to reports of illegal drug activity.
“In addition to the tenancy agreement, BC Housing tenants must sign a Crime Free Housing Addendum which requires tenants to refrain from engaging in illegal activities on the property such as illegal drug use and dealing. Some tenants have addiction and mental health issues. We are in contact with those tenants, making them aware of the rules of the building and providing connections to support services for those who require it.”
Following questions submitted by The Record to BC Housing last week, Liddie says she was informed Friday that private security will be patrolling the building on weekends. The agency’s spokeswoman confirmed BC Housing has hired security to monitor the area during the evening, while the building transitions to a new manager.