North Vancouver seniors' complex had been neglected for years before deadly fire, resident says

·3 min read
The Silverlynn Apartments, a three-storey seniors' housing complex in North Vancouver's Lynn Valley, after Tuesday's fire. (Justine Boulin/CBC News - image credit)
The Silverlynn Apartments, a three-storey seniors' housing complex in North Vancouver's Lynn Valley, after Tuesday's fire. (Justine Boulin/CBC News - image credit)

A senior living in North Vancouver, B.C., says he and his children complained about disrepair and poor maintenance at his apartment complex months before a fire killed one of his neighbours this week.

Peter Phelan, 90, said the Silverlynn Apartments complex in Lynn Valley has been "totally neglected" for years. He was allowed back into his one-bedroom suite on Thursday, two days after a deadly fire tore through part of the building.

"A pig pen, the building has been," said Phelan.

"I do not have friends come here. I'm too embarrassed to have them drive up and see this building."

One person was killed and 70 others forced out of their homes by the fire on Tuesday. North Vancouver RCMP are still working to determine how it started.

In an interview from his still-smoky apartment on Thursday, Phelan didn't allege the fire was related to the building's disrepair — but he made clear the extent of the neglect.

"These people are extremely vulnerable," he said of his elderly neighbours. "They'll accept anything because it's a place to live in."

Yasmin Gandham/CBC
Yasmin Gandham/CBC

The issues with the building were brought to the attention of the Lowland Senior Citizens Housing Society, which operates the three-storey complex, in a letter written by Phelan's son last fall.

"The condition of Silverlynn has been appalling for years now," Jerome Phelan wrote in a letter dated Sept. 5, 2021.

"The exterior problems are obvious to anyone who cares to look beyond the parts of the building that face the public. Taking the local neighbours into consideration by repainting the public facing elevations is understandable, after all, who would want to look at such a ramshackle, seedy building," he continued.

"However, as I am sure you are aware, the less public-facing parts of the building and the interior spaces are in shockingly poor condition and it's these areas that the residents live with daily and have done so for years."

Supplied by Peter Phelan
Supplied by Peter Phelan

Jerome Phelan attached nearly a dozen photos to support his letter. They showed a hole in a ceiling that had collapsed, peeling paint on the building's exterior and water-damaged carpet in the hallway and an elevator.

His father said the society has said costs are a barrier to repairs.

"I can't understand why the [District] of North Vancouver or the B.C. government or the local housing department hasn't looked at that," Peter Phelan said.

CBC News attempted to contact the Lowland Senior Citizens Housing Society but did not receive a response.

On Thursday, B.C. Housing said it doesn't provide operating funding for Silverlynn but is helping to fund "some major capital repairs."

"The Lowland Senior Citizens' Housing Society is undertaking those repairs in accordance with B.C. Housing's guidelines.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life. Our thoughts are with their loved ones, the other residents of Silverlynn Apartments, and the frontline staff members and first responders who have worked hard to support all involved."

The District of North Vancouver deferred to the RCMP for comment.

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