Canada

Low-income tenants told to leave over UBC construction site risk

More than 80 residents of a low-income apartment building in Kelowna, B.C., have been told they need to leave because a nearby construction site has caused a “significant” risk to life and safety.

A statement from B.C. Housing says the 84 people who live in Hadgraft Wilson Place will have to move out by Tuesday after recent geotechnical and structural engineering reports showed a shoring wall at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan (UBCO) construction site is unstable.

A slip “could cause serious structural damage” to the apartment building, B.C. Housing says.

Kelowna Fire Chief Dwight Seymour said in a statement the level of risk is “significant enough to begin the evacuation process to ensure the life and safety of occupants and first responders.”

B.C. Housing said new information about the risks of the shoring wall emerged after earlier reports showed construction activity at the UBCO site caused cracks in the walls and windows of the apartment building.

The construction site is the location for UBCO’s $263-million Downtown Kelowna project, which began in November 2023.

Spanning an entire city block, it is set to house a 43-storey high-rise and a four-level underground parkade. It’s required the largest excavation carried out in downtown Kelowna to date.

‘We’re beyond frustrated’

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

Society executive director Charisse Daley said tenants and staff at the building are devastated by the unexpected evacuation notice. 

“We’re beyond frustrated. This simply shouldn’t be happening and it was preventable,” said Daley 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,” read the statement.

Brandon McClusky says numerous tenants at Hadgraft Wilson Place have been impacted by the nearby construction site and resulting ground settling. (Jay Bertagnolli/CBC)

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

Daley said staff have formed “supporting caring relationships” with the tenants and it’s just unimaginable for tenants to be evacuated so soon after being allowed to move into the new building. 

“We’re playing triage to address the immediate short-term problem while working on the longer-term solutions,” she said.

Brandon McClusky, a resident at Hadgraft Wilson Place, says the whole situation has been “a horror story.” 

He says there are cracks running through his living room and kitchen walls, but that’s nothing compared to the damage in other tenants’ units. 

“There’s been cracks on walls, doors shifting, … windows warping … everyone’s place is falling apart,” he said, adding that he used to feel safe there but now isn’t sleeping much and is worried the place might come falling down. 

A man in a black shirt is looking to the side. Behind him are a pile of clothes on a chair/
David Cowan says the sudden evacuation order at Hadgraft Wilson Place has impacted the mental health of tenants. (Jay Bertagnolli/CBC)

David Cowan, another resident, says the uncertainty and displacement has been affecting residents’ mental health.

He says many tenants, like himself, are on disability and live “pay cheque to pay cheque” with limited alternative housing options in downtown Kelowna. 

“It’s definitely a little frustrating, especially because there’s something so hopeful and encouraging for having low-cost housing for individuals with disabilities,” said Cowan.

“People like us are vulnerable to having elevated stress levels when stuff like this happens … I don’t think we’ll be displaced but it may be longer than we expect when we can move back.”

In a statement B.C. Housing said it’s “an incredibly stressful time for everyone involved, particularly for the tenants at Hadgraft Wilson Place who just moved into their new homes a few months ago, many after waiting years for a secure home they could afford.”

The statement adds that it’s unclear when tenants will be able to return, and engineers will conduct a comprehensive review of the building as soon as it’s completely evacuated.

According to the City of Kelowna, the shifting ground has also caused damage to buildings nearby, including the Okanagan coLab and the Kelowna Royal Canadian Legion Branch.

A large grey and beige building has a crack in the upper level wall.
According to a Facebook post, the Okanagan coLab building had to be evacuated for safety concerns and following damages, including a crack in the exterior wall, from ground settling as a result of nearby construction. (Ponderosa Education Community/Facebook)

UBC announced on its website that construction has been suspended until further notice. 

It says the university and its project manager, UBC Properties Trust, will consult engineering reports and the city to determine next steps. 

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