Disabled people at risk because of CCOC mismanagement.

To the average city dweller living in a high-rise apartment building, an elevator service interruption disrupts day-to-day life: taking the groceries up the stairs or small children in strollers down the stairs is a lot more complicated; moving heavier items like appliances or furniture becomes almost impossible. Life is at the very least irritating when this occurs, but what does an elevator breakdown mean to someone who can’t walk?

For residents of 145 Clarence Street, a Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC) building, life is currently chaotic, dangerous, and possibly even life-threatening. Activists and tenants often describe CCOC as one of Ottawa’s most respected landlords. CCOC is run as a non-profit whose motto is: “Creating, maintaining, and promoting affordable housing.”

The building’s two elevators have been out of service since Friday, August 5th, with no plan to get the elevators running again until August 19, 2022.

Peter McGrath, a resident in the building, stated his immense frustration. McGrath has quadriplegia and relies entirely on his wheelchair for mobility. The government of Canada lawyer cannot attend his office. If he has a medical emergency, and McGrath has had several in the last six months, he has been instructed to call the fire department to remove him from his home.

A CCOC representative stated in an email to Ottawa Life that the elevators at 145 Clarence Street failed due to a proprietary part shortage and said: “Experienced a component failure which, unfortunately, due to it serving both cars affected the operation of the elevator in its entirety.”

According to the CCOC, “Our elevators are serviced regularly, and this level of component failure is very uncommon.” McGrath said in a phone interview that the elevators had routinely been disrupted, with one ceasing to function for nearly two months in 2019 and intermittently failing again throughout 2020 and 2021.

CCOC stated: “Unfortunately, the component that failed is proprietary to the particular elevator make and can be sourced only through a specific supplier.” CCOC went on to say that getting the elevators running is a priority, but even though they are “pressing the supplier very hard, the component is unlikely to be here until next week.” The expected repair date is August 19th, meaning McGrath will have been stuck in the unit for two weeks by the time the elevator is fixed.

McGrath is not satisfied with this answer, saying: “They waited and waited while these 30-year-old elevators often didn’t work, or worked intermittently, and when CCOC had time to fix them and source parts, they didn’t, and now there’s a crisis.”

McGrath and 15 other residents who live in apartments designated for people with disabilities (PWD) have long struggled with the elevator issue. On several previous occasions, PWD tenants have been unable to access their apartments and have been stuck in the lobby for hours waiting for repairs. In-home care is provided for the PWDs who reside in the building, but they cannot get the full extent of care required, including routine yet critical medical procedures, in the building lobby.

Deputy Chief Nathan Adams of the Ottawa Fire Services said that CCOC’s response has confused residents. Although the Fire Service will respond to emergencies regarding PWDs living in the building, they cannot be diverted from their already wide range of responsibilities serving the citizens of Ottawa to be used as a ‘moving service’ for PWDs. Adams also said that service provisions and safety codes clearly state that the building is responsible for providing residents safe access and egress, including elevator upkeep.

Ottawa Life spoke to features writer and PWD Ryan Lythall, who also lives in a CCOC building. Lythall said that one of his building’s elevators was also plagued by technical issues. “It would stop and go and then be really slow. It stayed that way for months.” When Lythall Tweeted about the ongoing situation to raise awareness of the problem at 145 Clarence, CCOC responded with the same form response sent to Ottawa Life Magazine.

Local Councillor Mathieu Fleury, who chairs Ottawa Community Housing, said tenants need to be supported. He said that the city’s housing branch would remain open to serve the needs of the building inhabitants who cannot use the stair and are forced to stay elsewhere. Fleury stated that the city’s community housing association proactively deals with elevators that do not work in city housing. Still, because CCOC is a private corporation, the City of Ottawa is not responsible for the maintenance.

Ottawa Life contacted College Ward candidate for Council Laine Johnson, who is currently on leave from her position as director of Tenant and Community Outreach at the CCOC. Johnson said she could not comment as she is on leave from the CCOC and encouraged questions to be taken to the director of CCOC, for whom she did not provide any contact reference.

McGrath further expressed his frustration with the broken elevators. Contrary to what CCOC stated, he says that this problem could have been avoided if CCOC had been proactive and not reactive to elevator maintenance. As a result, McGrath and 15 other residents are imprisoned in their building.

PHOTO: ccochousing.org