Residents of Kelowna, B.C. housing complex devastated by displacement

Click to play video: 'UBCO tower construction triggers evacuation'
UBCO tower construction triggers evacuation
Dozens of people are now displaced due to significant safety concerns caused by the construction of UBC Okanagan downtown campus. This is just the latest development since the project started as several other buildings in the area have already been forced to shut down operations due to cracks and movement in the foundation. Taya Fast reports. – Apr 1, 2024

Tracy Hutton’s son Harry found his independence around seven months ago when he was moved into one of the units at Hadgraft Wilson Place, in downtown Kelowna, B.C.

“He has full-time caregivers, but it’s his home, it’s his place,” Tracy said Monday as her son, alongside other residents at the building run by Pathways Abilities Society, continued to follow the evacuation order issued Sunday when structural issues believed to be caused by the construction of the UBC Okanagan tower amplified.

The City of Kelowna called a meeting and told residents and staff that they had three days to get their belongings and leave. Hotel rooms were provided, but little insight into what the weeks ahead would hold was provided. An update is expected on Friday.

“I know a lot of people are angry and I don’t think it gets you anywhere, but it’s pretty devastating for everybody involved,” Tracy said.

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Click to play video: 'Structural damage to buildings in downtown Kelowna blamed on construction of new UBC-Okanagan tower'
Structural damage to buildings in downtown Kelowna blamed on construction of new UBC-Okanagan tower

Hadgraft Wilson Place provides safe rental options for people with limited incomes but was also built with mindfulness toward people with a vast spectrum of challenges.  For example, eight of the one-bedroom units are completely wheelchair-accessible, and Harry lives in one of those units.

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His best friend, who lives next door, has Down syndrome, Tracy said, adding that there are more people with other challenges who are dealing with the adjustment.

“It’s taken years for them to find a place to live independently and it’s kind of shocking, … to some of the other people who have different disabilities,” Tracy said.

“Some of them don’t even realize what’s going on and it’s just devastating to see how it’s going to affect them.”

Altogether, 84 people were displaced when the news came through Sunday that the building had to be evacuated.

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BC Housing said in a statement that recent geotechnical and structural engineering reports show a shoring wall is unstable at the construction site, and a slip could cause serious structural damage to the neighbouring apartment building. It’s the latest in a seemingly long list of concerns raised as construction of the project carried on in recent months.

Pathways Abilities Society, which operates the building, is offering accommodation for tenants who need to temporarily relocate to a hotel.

“We’re beyond frustrated. This simply shouldn’t be happening and it was preventable,” society executive director Charisse Daley said in a statement.

“We have been notifying UBC Trust for months of the issues looking for solutions to the initial damage and wanting to ensure the long-term stability of the building.”

Daley said the message they received from the university is that they  “are not confident” the construction is causing the damage.

In a statement, UBC representative Nathan Skolski said UBC Properties Trust is voluntarily suspending construction activity on its downtown Kelowna project until further notice.

“We know that this is a concerning development for Pathways Abilities Society and its tenants,” Skolski said in a media statement.

“Our first priority is their safety and wellbeing. We are grateful for their patience and resilience in these challenging circumstances.”

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Given the complex nature of the project, Skolski said UBC and UBC Properties Trust will take time to study the most recent engineering reports and consult with the city to establish the appropriate next steps.

“We will share that information as it becomes available,” he said.

Paul Stackhouse, another resident of the building, said he  doesn’t have the impression that good news is on the horizon and he’s “livid.”

He’s concerned about what the future holds for many of the residents who don’t have family and friends to lean on.

“There’s so many people here that have severe developmental and physical disabilities and depend on this place and what they’re doing is not right,” he said.

-with files from CP

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