British Columbia

Seniors suffer through heat wave as housing complex offers poor ventilation, no air conditioning

A heat wave sweeping Western Canada has set temperature records, triggered flood warnings and air quality advisories. It’s also created significant discomfort for many British Columbians, seniors in particular.

Residents describe the situation at Linden Tree Place as 'dreadful' and 'unbearable'

Catherine Stafford, a resident at Linden Tree Place, says her building is made hotter by a vent sending hot air from the rooftop back into the building. (Susana da Silva/CBC)

A heat wave sweeping Western Canada has set temperature records, triggered flood warnings and air quality advisories. It's also created significant discomfort for many British Columbians.

Residents at Linden Tree Place, a seniors housing facility in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood, say they're concerned their building doesn't have proper ventilation, making a bad situation even worse. 

Terry LeBlanc, who has lived there since 2012, described the situation as "unbearable."

"For somebody with a spinal cord injury, my thermostat doesn't work anymore, I just can't shed the heat," he said. 

In summers past, LeBlanc said the temperature has been hard to handle, but not until late July. 

The issue, according to fellow resident Catherine Stafford, is caused in part by fresh air vents that funnel hot air from the roof of the building into the hallways — without the air being cooled.

"It's dreadful," she said. 

Stafford said residents were told by the property manager the vents blowing the hot air couldn't be turned off for fire hazard reasons, but a wet towel placed over the hallway vents would cool things down. 

Residents of Linden Tree Place say they were told to put wet towels over the vents to cool things down. (Susana da Silva/CBC)

But Stafford said that's not enough. 

"It needs to be fixed," she said. 

"It needs to have, added to that existing fan system, a cooling system, some kind of temperature gain gauge where it can bring us cool air in the summer and some warm air in the winter."

Ann Wight, who has lived in the building since 2015, said the problem is communication between the property management company, the non-profit organization that runs the building, and B.C. Housing. 

"I just can't stress enough how left to our own resources we are," she said. 

"I realize that probably not a lot can be done about installing air conditioning, but I'm just surmising that maybe if air conditioning could be installed, that would be ideal."

B.C. Housing said Monday in a statement that the non-profit that operates Linden Tree Place, the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of B.C., had staff on site Sunday evening who confirmed the "building's HVAC system is operational." 

"[Staff] are aware that residents would prefer additional cooling, and are bringing in a third-party technician to adjust the system and lower the building's temperature by a few degrees," the statement said. 

B.C. Housing also noted an air-conditioned "resident cooling station" had been established in the building. 

Terry Lake, chief executive officer for the B.C. Care Providers Association, said the heat B.C. has experienced over the past few days has been tough on everyone, but it's especially hard on seniors. 

"Older people have difficulty regulating their body temperature. That, combined with a cognitive decline in some older people, means that they may not be able to tolerate the heat nearly as well as younger people can," he told BC Today guest host Angela Sterritt. 

As climate change triggers more heat waves like this, Lake said it's important for those designing and operating seniors' living facilities to ensure adequate ventilation and air conditioning. 

 "We need to be thinking about climate change whenever we're talking about building design for the future," he said. 

With files from Susana da Silva

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