Tuesday, May 28, 2024

‘Toxic living environment’: Tenants call Pacifica Housing units in disrepair ‘unlivable’


Depending on who you talk to in Greater Victoria and even up island, Pacifica Housing is seen in two very different lights.

Many view the charitable company as saviours, operating over 1,400 units of housing for people who desperately need assistance to keep from becoming unhoused. 

They operate supportive, subsidized and affordable housing across Vancouver Island with a mission to “advance the independence of individuals and families through equitable housing and supportive services.”

However, according to many people who have had to rely on Pacifica for housing, the company has fallen from grace and has put them in living situations that are dirty, mouldy and toxic. 

Some say they have even ended up homeless because of Pacifica. 

Trouble in Tamarack Close

Mrs. Barber (who asked that her first name be omittedfor security reasons), is the most recent of many to reach out to Victoria Buzz following the publication of an article about a family of Syrian refugees, whose father died just months before they were evicted and left effectively homeless. Their eviction was due to the fact that the troubled and grieving children were playing too loudly outside.

When that article was written, Pacifica declined the opportunity to comment on the eviction due to privacy reasons. 

In Barber’s case, she had been a resident of the same Pacifica property as the Syrian family since 2018, Tamarack Close, located along Wale Road in Colwood.  

She is the mother of two children and she says that the conditions of some Tamarack’s units are unfit for anyone to be living in and it is insulting to her that Pacifica would subject people to such living conditions. 

“I tried to hold them accountable and speak on behalf of all tenants that were in there, in just Tamarack, nevermind all of them and it bit me in the ass,” Barber told Victoria Buzz. 

“I just want them to be held accountable for the way that they have been treating people, not just recently, but for the last five years, it’s just gotten so bad.”

Tensions at the Tamarack Close property had been high to to unruly kids, conflicts between neighbours and accusations that were in some cases unfounded, all the while Barber had been trying to navigate her own life circumstances while feeling as if her voice was going unheard by the staff meant support her and her neighbours.

In terms of maintenance, she had several issues. 

When Barber moved from one unit to another in Tamarack Close, she was moved into a dirty unit that had not been cleaned since the prior tenant left so she had to hire a cleaner out of her own pocket to deal with it. 

There was also a hole in the roof with extensive water damage for years which she says Pacifica neglected to ever deal with. She had no working stove or oven for months, there were several electrical issues in her unit, a toilet that constantly flooded, water-damaged floorboards that were peeling off the ground, missing baseboards, water damage that had never been dealt with.

Leaking hole in the ceiling of Barber’s unit. It went unfixed for years (Courtesy of Mrs. Barber)

Additionally, some furniture was found damaged and Barber says the list could go on and on, and that was just her unit.

“Somebody had so much damages to their unit that they had f*cking mushrooms growing out of their floor,” Barber told Victoria Buzz. “Like, that’s crazy.”

In addition to the many maintenance issues Barber had that largely were left unresolved due to what she views as apathetic staff, Tamarack Close had some neighbourly disputes that created an atmosphere of toxicity.

Barber herself had some people complain about her actions and behaviours, and in turn, she herself lodged complaints against her neighbours.

She said that while the Syrian family of refugees were still living there, the now-deceased father was abusive toward the mother and children, one neighbour would offer underage girls from the complex liquor and invite them into his unit, while another neighbour had a pile of garbage on her back patio that was so tall it towered over the fence line. 

“If Pacifica won’t do anything, it makes for a very toxic living environment,” Barber explained. 

She said the complaint process is an arduous one. When something is going awry in the complex, the issue often falls on deaf ears.  

To lodge a complaint, first a tenant must call and leave a voicemail, then email the complaint in writing, then Barber says if it is seen and they reach out to the one making the complaint, then they will say there’s nothing they can do until a formal complaint form has been filled out with dates and times. 

She says this process takes far too long and at the end of the road, more often than not, nothing is done. 

On top of that, Barber alleged that Pacifica is much more likely to deal with men’s complaints than women’s. 

“Any time a man makes a complaint it’s heard right away, but if you’re a woman it’s just… they simply don’t care,” Barber explained. 

After four years, Barber was evicted from Tamarack Close and is now going through an arbitration process with Pacifica because of it. 

In the end, she believes she was evicted because of a newly hired Resident Services Coordinator who had a vendetta against her. 

Barber admits that she lost her temper with staff on a handful of occasions because of the inadequate living situation she dealt with and that in trying to advocate for herself, she doesn’t think she was well-loved by those who held her life in their hands. 

She says that after the new coordinator came into Tamarack, she was written up three times in mere months after living there for four years having a clean record. 

The final nail in the coffin of her residency in the Pacifica property was that she left her ex-partner’s belongings out in front of her house for him to retrieve. He didn’t come to get them and as a result, the new hire coordinator served her one final write-up and an eviction notice. 

To add insult to injury, Barber says there were several other units in breach of the rule she had been evicted for on the day of her eviction that went unpunished. This especially made her feel like Pacifica had a vendetta against her. 

A photo of Barber’s unit (right) compared to another unit’s messy exterior (left) when she received a write-up and her neighbour did not (Courtesy of Mrs. Barber)

Now, Barber and her two children are bouncing from one women’s shelter to another on Vancouver Island as she tries to keep a roof over her family’s head. 

Through the arbitration process and her eviction, Barber had some of her fellow tenants at Tamarack Close write letters of support for her in which they highlighted their own struggles with Pacifica. 

Other’s experiences with Pacifica

One tenant, who still resides at Tamarack Close, wrote a letter of support for her friend to Pacifica following Barber’s eviction. 

Because she is still a resident and fears she will be treated similarly to Barber, she will be referred to as “Kendra” for the purposes of this article.

“In the past six months, I have watched my neighbour and friend go through one traumatic event after another,” Kendra wrote.  

Kendra wrote about the fact that while all this turmoil was happening between Barber and Pacifica staff, Barber almost lost her mother and her partner at the time let her down, amplifying her stress and anguish. 

“Fast forward a month or two after I watch this amazingly strong mother pull it together for her children once again. She finds out that not only was her relationship not what she ever thought but he had lied and cheated the entire time,” Kendra explained. 

“Her whole world came crashing down.” 

Kendra wrote about how her friend and neighbour had not put anyone in danger, as other tenants had been doing, and she had always paid her rent on time, but because Pacifica didn’t like the way she spoke to them. 

“In the last two years I [too] have watched and been victim to the lack of landlord responsibility taken in situations that made myself and my daughters feel not only scared but unsafe in our home,” she stated. 

Her letter of support closes with the statement, “my friend Denise is being targeted.”

Another current tenant of Pacifica Housing reached out to Victoria Buzz to share her similar experience at the hands of the subsidized housing company.

Because she is also still a tenant and fears she will be unfairly targeted or evicted by Pacifica, she will be referred to simply as “Jane” in this article. 

Jane currently lives at Bethune Ridge, near Uptown in Saanich — a 23 unit subsidized property run by Pacifica. 

She has dealt with many similar situations as Barber in regards to complaints of maintenance issues falling on deaf ears. 

When Jane spoke with Pacifica about her unit having severe mould issues, they told her it was not mould, despite her attempts to clean it and the mould’s growth. 

“I’ve painted it and it still doesn’t go away, and they still don’t do anything, cause that would mean it would cost them money to fix it, as well as they’d have to get the work done appropriately and in a timely fashion,” Jane told Victoria Buzz.  

“They apparently can’t transfer me or anyone [to another unit], cause it takes ‘4-5 years,’ and they won’t pay to have us stay somewhere while the repairs are made.”

On top of the mould, Jane has had numerous household issues in a unit she describes as if it is decaying around her. The bathroom has several issues, much like Barber’s unit at Tamarack Close, the linoleum is peeling from extensive water damages and yet nothing gets fixed.

“They say I’d have to move in order for these repairs to be made, but yet that’ll take at least [five] years they said, unless I could afford to move elsewhere,” Jane explained. 

“But since they base rent on income and do [annual] rent reviews, my income goes up, so does my rent, there is no way to save to get ahead to move out… Yet here we are.”

Those are just the tip of the iceberg for the problematic issues Jane faces at Bethune Ridge. 

Pacifica Housing’s response

Victoria Buzz reached out to Pacifica about these allegations made by numerous past and present tenants relying on their services. 

They replied in kind with a statement from the CEO of Pacifica Housing, Carolina Ibarra.

“We are unable to comment on matters related to current or past tenancies, as it would be a breach of privacy,” Ibarra said. 

“What we can share is that at Pacifica Housing, the primary objective is to keep our residents housed. Evictions are always a last resort, and as per our Eviction Prevention policy, emergency short-term support services are offered to residents whose tenancies are at risk.” 

She also stated that Pacifica makes resources available to their tenants, such as assistance with budgeting, accessing the rent bank, and referrals to community services, as well as education related to the rights and responsibilities of tenants. 

“Regarding maintenance as a whole, we have a clear process for reporting maintenance issues and we leverage technology to track response time and completion,” Ibarra told Victoria Buzz. 

“The average time to address a request is [five] days.” 

She included that major repairs, suite renovations and cosmetic upgrades are dependent on available the organization’s funding. 

“The buildings we believe you are referencing are both undergoing major renovation projects funded by the Province,” she continued. 

“While we cannot comment on specific tenancies, we strongly encourage any residents with maintenance needs to request service via the appropriate channels.”

The residents who spoke with Victoria Buzz regarding their myriad of maintenance issues said they had indeed gone through the proper channels to no avail and were left to their own devices. 

Curtis Blandy

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