Edmonton affordable housing residents say they wait months, years for vital repairs

·7 min read
Marianne Snoek says she's been living with black mould for the past five years and it has caused her mental health to decline. (Craig Ryan/CBC - image credit)
Marianne Snoek says she's been living with black mould for the past five years and it has caused her mental health to decline. (Craig Ryan/CBC - image credit)

Some Edmontonians living in homes owned by a government-funded provider of affordable housing say their complaints about mould and other problems have not been addressed quickly enough.

They live in townhouses managed by Civida, formerly known as Capital Region Housing, which receives millions of dollars in funding each year from the province and the City of Edmonton.

Marianne Snoek moved into the Menisa 1 townhouse complex in Mill Woods in August 2017. Even though her move-in inspection report noted black mould in the basement, she said she had no other option.

"I signed documents under duress, meaning I was stressed out, and didn't have anywhere to go," Snoek said. "I didn't know that it was going to spread the way it did."

Craig Ryan/CBC
Craig Ryan/CBC

Over the years the mould began to spread from the basement, to the kitchen, to the walls in her children's bedrooms.

Snoek said she asked Civida for a solution to the mould problem frequently over the years — over the phone, to the site manager in person and during annual inspections. But Snoek said no one showed up to contain or treat it.

According to Health Canada's website, mould can be caused by a major moisture problem or leak in an exterior wall, foundation or plumbing system. Side effects can include eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue and headaches.

Mould can worsen symptoms of asthma and trigger allergic reactions. In children and infants, mould can cause coughing and bleeding in the lungs, according to Ontario's Ministry of Health.

On July 26 of this year, Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray contacted Civida on behalf of Snoek, urging the housing provider to treat the mould in Snoek's home.

In emailed correspondence, Civida told Gray it had sent out a work order to complete mould remediation.

But more than a month later, Snoek said, none of the mould had been treated.

Civida told Gray that to prevent more mould from spreading and growing, it would install eavestroughs throughout the complex that same week. Snoek said workers had taken down old eavestroughing several months earlier.

When CBC visited the Menisa 1 complex in late August, there were no eavestroughs. Black mould was visible inside Snoek's home.

"It's incredibly important that these Albertans are listened to and they need to be responded to," Gray said. "Civida needs to be more responsive than we've seen so far."

In a statement to CBC, Civida said it takes mould "very seriously." It said reports of mould are investigated "and when needed, Civida creates a plan for remediation."

Civida also said it works with tenants to identify solutions "up to and including alternate housing during the time required to repair the property."

Snoek said she and Gray asked Civida for alternate housing, but that Civida did not respond to their request.

Civida says it manages more than 4,500 subsidized units for people with lower incomes, and more than 700 near-market and market-priced rental homes, all in the Edmonton metro region.

Craig Ryan/CBC
Craig Ryan/CBC

To become eligible for community housing, prospective tenants must meet income criteria under the Alberta Housing Act. Rents range from $130 per month up and average approximately $400 per month. Tenants in near-market housing pay rents set at 10 to 20 per cent below current market rates.

The organization, which says over 13,000 people are living in Civida homes, began in 1970 as the Edmonton Housing Authority. In 1995, its name changed to Capital Region Housing. In April 2021 it was rebranded as Civida.

Civida's property portfolio includes provincially-owned housing and other buildings owned by the City of Edmonton.

This fiscal year, the Alberta government will provide $19.2 million to support Civida's operations, and $5.4 million for maintenance on provincially owned buildings Civida runs. The city provides another $600,000 a year to maintain city-owned buildings managed by Civida.

In a statement to CBC, Civida says it plans to spend $11 million on operating maintenance this year and another $13.3 million on capital maintenance.

The province says that since 2020, Civida has received an average $4.1 million per year in grants for properties that are municipally-owned. Last year, the City of Edmonton provided Civida with $2.5 million in funding from the province to rehabilitate 236 city-owned housing units.

'My mental state has gone downhill'

CBC spoke with five residents in three Civida buildings about their own concerns. Many expressed worry over possible backlash and declined to speak on the record.

In response to concerns raised by Snoek, Alberta's Ministry of Seniors and Housing said it is working with Civida to address the issues and provide support.

"It is our understanding that contractors have been on site undertaking remediation work in response to concerns expressed by tenants and this work is ongoing," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"We will continue to monitor the situation as we do with all our housing assets."

In an emailed statement, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said an Environmental Public Health inspector responded to a complaint at the Menisa 1 complex in July.

AHS could not confirm if the complaint was for Snoek's unit or say how many complaints have been made about Civida-run housing units.

Snoek, meanwhile, said she continues to live in unhealthy conditions. Mould and constant worrying have caused her health to decline, she said.

"My mental state has gone completely downhill, my physical state, everything," she said.

At the end of August, Snoek gave notice she intended to find a different place to live.

She moved out of Menisa 1 on Sept. 9.

Mould not the only problem

Skyler Morgan lives in Civida's Rundle Heights 2 complex in northeast Edmonton.

Morgan, who is deaf and has mobility disabilities, first sought permission from Civida in April to install a mobility ramp and additional hand railings.

"I'm disabled but I just can't lift a lot of things," Morgan said. "My walking device is heavy. [My doctor] wants to put me on an electric one and I can't lift it up the stairs and I can't leave it outside because somebody's going to steal it."

Sam Mason, accessibility co-ordinator with the advocacy group Voices of Albertans with Disabilities, has been working to help push Morgan's requests forward.

Craig Ryan/CBC
Craig Ryan/CBC

Mason said she has multiple reports of people with disabilities in Civida housing not having their needs met.

"Another person I'm working with is requesting a stairlift to get into their basement, which is essentially just a piece of equipment that would be no different than getting a bookshelf anchored to a wall… In that case, it feels a little bit even more unjustified," Mason said.

She said after months of back and forth, Civida eventually stopped answering and didn't submit the needed paperwork for permission to install the ramp or hand railings for Morgan.

"I have had trouble getting hold of anyone in response to this," Mason said. "I was informed that they had agreed over email that it was fine… And then the trail has just kind of gone silent on how we can get hold of anyone responsible."

Civida said it does its best to match applicants with housing adapted to their specific needs, but that it is "not always feasible, due to the lack of accessible units in Civida's housing stock, to meet all the requirements for every applicant."

In Morgan's case, she was not living with disabilities when she applied for Civida housing.

Craig Ryan/CBC
Craig Ryan/CBC

Morgan received a work notice from Civida stating that hand railings would be installed on Sept. 12. However, she has yet to hear back about the ramp.

Morgan said Rundle Heights 2 has become her home. She said she takes care of her place, including a vegetable garden she tends with a neighbour.

She just wants more timely action.

"It makes me feel very angry," Morgan said. "Especially because I'm constantly having to fight for disabled rights. Coming from a housing corporation that's supposed to help the disabled, it's flabbergasting to me."