Mold, leaks and air quality issues plague Indigenous housing in Ontario, tenants say

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Several tenants living in units run by Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services (OAHS) say their homes are “falling apart”, damaging their health, and accuse the nonprofit of shoddy work or late responses.

“What I’ve been through here in seven years is horrible, it’s exhausting, it’s emotionally draining,” Ishkode-O’de Wagamese, who lives in Burnstown, Ont., Told approximately 85 kilometers west of Ottawa.

The OAHS is a non-profit organization that receives funding from the provincial government and has over 2,000 units across Ontario. Its mandate is providing “safe and affordable housing” for rural and urban Aboriginal people in the province.

CBC has spoken to several tenants in the organization, some of whom have refused to speak publicly for fear of eviction or other consequences. They described recurring leaks and flooding, unsecured kitchen cabinets and structures, and broken septic systems in their units. Several families blamed the respiratory problems on mold.

Renters – many of whom live on low incomes and some rely on disability benefits – said their physical and mental health was compromised while living in these homes and they could not afford to continue paying maintenance of their home. pockets.

When CBC shared a list of tenants’ concerns, the housing agency said some of the allegations were “entirely false,” although it did not elaborate, citing the privacy of tenants.

The problems were immediate, according to the tenant

Less than a month after moving in the summer of 2014, Wagamese said her family noticed mold under their new mattress.

“I didn’t understand how it would have turned out, but I didn’t question the house at the time,” she said.

The situation then worsened a few months later.

“We started to notice in the basement that there was a funny smell,” she said. “We just noticed all the dampness on the walls, the plastic was hanging off the walls, was hanging with solid water in the plastic. The insulation on the walls was all covered in black.”

Wagamese said his family’s belongings, including precious personal memorabilia, were “soaked and covered with mold”.

“We have lost everything … All our photo albums, all my [child’s] baby photos, my beds, our dressers, the living room furniture, everything had to go in the trash, ”she said.

“My [child] was so sick from the bad mold… It tore our family apart. “

CBC shared its photos from this period with a home inspector who expressed concern over evidence of leaks in the foundation of the house, but said he could not confirm the presence of mold without lab tests.

Ishkode-Ode Wagamese says she started to smell something strange a few months after moving in and discovered black spots in the basement. His things must have been thrown away. (Submitted by Ishkode-O’de Wagamese)

The OAHS hired contractors to repair the foundation in November 2014, and work continued on the house until 2016, Wagamese said. According to an email from the OAHS in May of that year, an air quality report from a contractor concluded that “all issues have been resolved.”

Over the next four months, however, a laboratory analysis of the water performed by Public Health Ontario showed “significant evidence of bacterial contamination” and found the water in the house to be “unsuitable for drinking.” . Another company’s air quality test found bacteria causing mold in the living room and basement.

Wagamese initially hired a lawyer to seek compensation for the material loss and “pain and suffering,” but she could not afford to take legal action in small claims court.

Then in a letter dated February 2021, obtained by CBC News, his lawyer accuses the organization of inaction in the three years since Wagemese’s last compensation claim, listing more than $ 50,000 in damages still. not settled.

“Your house has made me lose everything I owned. Help me, help me get back on my feet,” Wagamese said.

“Living here is not a house, it’s just a house I come to because I can’t afford anything else … If I could, I would have left.”

WATCH | Wagamese describes his pain, his loss as a tenant of the OAHS:

‘I’ve lost everything’: resident describes endemic mold in house owned by native housing organization

Ishkode-O’de Wagamese and her family moved into a home owned by Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services in 2014. Within months, she says mold had destroyed many of their belongings. In a statement, the OAHS said it was “extremely confident” in the work being done “to ensure the health and safety of all our tenants”. 2:05

The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing provided the OAHS with $ 33 million from 2014 to 2020, of which approximately $ 20 million was spent on the organization’s long-term rental program, according to its program guideline.

In his Company Profile, the organization says it works to help tenants “meet their needs for personal and financial security, health and spiritual well-being.”

“If this is the company they claim to be… they haven’t provided it to us,” Wagamese said.

She has had four more leaks in her basement since the spring, resulting in further losses, and says recurring problems have affected her physical, financial and mental health.

His house was also searched again and his beloved garden ruined.

“I can’t go on living like this.”

Left, a CBC videographer took a photo of Wagamese’s precious garden in June 2021. Right, the aftermath of an August excavation to repair leaks. (CBC / Ishkode-O’de Wagamese)

Moved and much happier

Sarah Valley, who lived in two units managed by the OAHS between 2013 and 2018, says severing ties with the organization has changed her life for the better.

Her first home in North Cobalt, which sits along the northwest shore of Lake Temiscamingue, had black spots in the basement, cracks in the walls and on several occasions it was frozen in her home – only to use a hair dryer to defrost it. door to work, she said.

“Black mold, they just didn’t believe me,” said Valley, whose children kept getting sick.

Valley took these pictures of her second rental unit from Ontario Native Housing Services. On the left, a photo of cement, insulation and foam infill in his basement. In the center, one of the ducts of his fan sloping down from the frozen water inside. To the right, a photo of what appears to be a broken piece of the exterior of his house, exposing the insulation. (Submitted by Sarah Valley)

The alleged mold problem “was never resolved,” she said, so she moved to another OAHS unit in the nearby town of Englehart. This house had chronic leaks in the basement, as well as water seeping from its kitchen light fixture and ventilation system.

“It was a stunt,” she said. “This place was just awful.”

WATCH | Valley takes a tour of her leaky basement in 2017:

Video shows water pool in the basement of an OAHS-owned house

Sarah Valley says she regularly found water in the basement of her home, which was owned by Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services. Emails show that she asked the organization to fix the leaks on five occasions between March 2017 and January 2018. In a statement, the OAHS defended its work, calling some of the allegations “entirely false.” 1:33

CBC obtained email correspondence which showed Valley had asked the OAHS to fix the leaks on five occasions between March 2017 and January 2018.

Valley said contractors fixed its roof, but the leaks continued. Eventually, she moved out before the problem was resolved.

She now lives in a house run by the Kirkland Lake Non Profit Housing Corporation and calls it a “blessing” compared to her previous two units.

The new unit still had problems

George Joseph Stephen, who lives in Hanmer, north of Sudbury, says he’s been living with a poorly finished ventilation system since moving into a newly built apartment ten years ago.

“Every time I cleaned the floor, there was like a white foamy substance on it. I found it was from the drywall that was draining from my vent. That’s what it was – cuttings of drywall, ”Stephen said.

When he opened the vent to investigate, he discovered that sheet metal was missing from the air duct. He says he’s been living with the kitchen vent covered in foil and duct tape ever since.

The first two photos show a gap in Stephen’s air duct. He lived with his DIY tin foil covering the gaps for about 10 years. (Submitted by George Joseph Stephen)

Stephen wonders if the nonprofit carried out a legitimate home inspection before allowing it to move in. The problem is still not resolved.

“My allergies are always bad here. I have had to take allergy pills every day for several years,” Stephen said.

He said he also lived for eight months with a leaking hot water tank.

“I kept telling them but they didn’t want to do anything.… He finally broke, so I didn’t take a shower for a good six months maybe.”

Stephen then called the City of Sudbury bylaws department, who ordered the OAHS to repair his tank and shower.

OAHS “extremely confident” in the work

Affected tenants say they want an investigation into how the OAHS handles customers and homes, but the organization is defending its work.

The OAHS said it spent $ 5.1 million to repair and maintain its units last year, and $ 5.9 million the year before.

“We are extremely confident that we are hiring the appropriate professionals and undertaking the work required to ensure the health and safety of all of our tenants,” wrote spokesperson Sarah McBain.

After repeatedly declining an interview, the nonprofit issued a stronger statement.

“Some of the allegations raised are entirely false. We would like to caution against publishing allegations that are not fully corroborated.”

The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing declined an interview.

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