NORTH BATTLEFORD - North Battleford City Council had questions for the Battlefords Housing Authority at their council meeting Monday.
At that meeting, the housing authority’s General Manager Denis Lavertu outlined recent accomplishments and initiatives at some of their properties. But there were questions about Valleyview Towers, which have been subject to an ongoing letter-writing campaign from tenants about living and security conditions.
Lavertu told council, that among a variety of projects designed to improve marketability of seniors' housing managed by the authority, there have been investments in security in their properties.
Lavertu said a professional security contractor, Pinnacle Protection Services, was hired in April to provide patrols for six of their buildings for about 10 to 12 hours overnight.
Lavertu told council that of all the measures, the “most successful” has been the professional security contract. He said an activity tracking log was started in July for undesirable activities, and the source of the activity was also tracked.
He said 89 per cent of the undesirable activities reported was by on-site security, as opposed to tenants or staff. Lavertu noted that was a main reason they went with the security contractor.
“Very few tenants will report this undesirable activity to the office so we can investigate,” said Lavertu. “So, this has been a huge success for us.”
It was noted from July to October, 125 undesirable activities were identified after business hours. The majority of instances included non-tenant trespassing on the grounds, noise disturbances, vandalism, non-tenant intoxication and other disturbances.
Lavertu also reported on the implementation of their new compliments and complaints policy. Since the policy was instituted in February, Lavertu reports there have been 23 formal complaints and 18 compliments from tenants. There were also other minor complaints that Lavertu said are easily resolved.
“Specifically,” Lavertu said, “there have been no formal tenant complaints from Valleyview Towers since March this year.”
It was Valleyview Towers that drew much of the attention from council in their questions to Lavertu. Questions were posed about the number of vacant units.
Councillor Kelli Hawtin noted that at his last appearance before council, Lavertu had reported Valleyview Towers had an occupancy rate of 50 to 60 per cent. She wondered if the vacancy rates were going down, “as those buildings are directly tied to the city of North Battleford’s subsidy for Battlefords Housing Authority.”
Lavertu responded the Towers had been staying at that same current vacancy rate. He noted the BHA have been talking about strategies to make improvements at the buildings right now.
He mentioned some interior improvements including on the main floor, painting work and safe and secure patio areas.
Hawtin also asked if the housing authority would “ever consider maybe selling one of those properties or thinking about a re-purpose of one of those properties, or is that something that (is) even on the agenda of discussion at this point?”
Lavertu responded that is “not my area for any type of sale or anything like that,” saying that would be up to the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation real estate division.
But he said Sask. Housing are conducting community analysis, policy and design for a number of communities “including ours as well,” because that “helps them understand where some gaps are, what’s needed in the community.”
Lavertu acknowledged they are “open to ideas like repurposing, changing, I’m not sure. We haven’t had anything concrete about what the plan is, but they’re definitely going to be open to having discussions.”
Councillor Bill Ironstand said he still gets questions on why the towers were not left alone as seniors' housing.
Lavertu responded these buildings have always been senior dedicated buildings, but noted there had been a significant change from Saskatchewan Human Rights defining a senior from age 65 down to age 55.
As a result, they had to align their social housing policy with that change. “Our senior buildings are 55-plus now as well. You wouldn’t think of that as a big difference, but someone who is 55 versus 65, that’s a big gap.”
Also, Lavertu noted that in cases of “chronic vacancies” where units are unfilled for six months or more, Sask. Housing has advised authorities they could put non-seniors in buildings “if they lived a senior’s lifestyle.” This was part of a “chronic vacancy” response throughout the province.
Lavertu said they try to place all applicants in a “best fit” scenario where they might be close to their schools or certain services they need.
Mayor David Gillan asked if thought was given to “reconfiguring” buildings such as the Towers from single-bedroom to more family units, as a way to better meet the family demand.
Lavertu acknowledged there are a lot of ideas out there, but noted they needed good information before decisions were made on what would be the best fit for the community.
Until they had a “really good analysis of this community as far as gap analysis and what housing is needed, and or where are some of the gaps may lie, it’s really difficult to make some of those decisions,” said Lavertu, who added most of those decisions would be at the Sask. Housing level.
In his report, Lavertu noted they have been working towards improving the “marketability” of their seniors' social housing units and buildings, and have started making some improvements to the interiors as many of their buildings are 40 or 50 years old.
This year, he said, they spent $140,000 toward senior building interior improvements. That spending included kitchen and bathroom renovations.
Overall, this year, Lavertu reported there has been a total investment of $1.4 million in projects nearly completed, with more than $820,000 invested in seniors' buildings. Lavertu said contractors in the Battlefords have been successful in winning contracts for over 90 per cent of the projects.
Lavertu noted the 20th Avenue block of 101st Street is “starting to look quite a bit different,” as BHA is fully renovating family duplexes there.
Funding was received from the federal National Housing Strategy and Saskatchewan Housing Corporation for the project, which was tendered to Lyle V. Schell Construction.
The buildings on the east side at that location will be complete by spring 2022, while the west side buildings will be completed by the fall. The overall investment will be more than $2 million.