London

Residents say troubled public housing building is much worse since COVID-19 pandemic

People living in a London public housing building with well-documented problems say it has become worse since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

London & Middlesex Community Housing says staff are still carrying out transfers, dealing with problems

Kayla Jacques applied for a transfer to a townhouse from 241 Simcoe St. when she was pregnant with Zaydon, who is one. She said she doesn't feel safe in the London & Middlesex Community Housing building that's intended for adult tenants only. (Submitted by Kayla Jacques)

People living at 241 Simcoe St. in London, Ont. say life was never easy before the COVID-19 pandemic, but has become even more difficult since it began.

The 12-storey building is operated by London & Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH) and was featured in a CBC report two years ago for problems, including drug users sleeping in stairwells and other issues. The building has acquired the nickname "the crystal palace" due to the availability of crystal methamphetamine. 

Kayla Jacques has been living in the building for almost four years and is desperate to get out since giving birth to her son Zaydon, now one. 

She applied to be transferred to an LMCH property with a townhouse and 18 months later, is still waiting. The building on Simcoe is for adult tenants only . 

"They keep telling me you have to wait," Jacques told CBC News. "But I've seen people come and go." 

She said her apartment is small, with little space for fast-growing Zaydon to play. 

The real problem, she said, is the group of drug users who constantly get into the building. 

"There's been drug activity, drug overdoses, I've watched them pull out bodies," said Jacques. "People pee and poop in the stairwells."

Jacques said her parents' place is a much safer environment for a toddler, so she tries to spend as much time there with her son as possible.

"At least it's safe there," she said. 

Jacques says she was originally told that a transfer couldn't happen while she was pregnant, which she accepted. 

People living at 241 Simcoe St. said the pandemic is worsening pre-existing problems in the building. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Jacques isn't the only one feeling unsafe at 241 Simcoe St. 

Stephanie Dolan has lived there since 2015. She said LMCH staff haven't been on site regularly since the COVID-19 outbreak and said that's emboldened non-residents and trespassers. 

"The lack of staff has made the homeless community rather brazen in their criminal activities around our building," she said. "They shoot up in our stairwells because there's no staff here at all really. They pee, there's human faeces. It's not a good time and it's gotten worse since the pandemic started. It used to not be every day, now it's every day."

She's had trespassers try to follow her as she enters the building and accost her on the street for not letting her in.

Statement from LMCH

LMCH sent a response to questions from CBC about the situation at 241 Simcoe St. 

The statement says the housing corporation has not stopped tenant transfers.

"We recognize that it isn't an ideal situation to be in with a young child, but these requests are dealt with in an urgent manner as long as there is availability with the site selections they have given us to work within," the statement says. 

As for staff presence at the building, LMCH had this to say: 

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, our staff have been working on a rotational basis. Currently, we do not have maintenance staff full time at this building. Our maintenance repair team responds as needed to do emergency work orders and continue to work on the restoration of vacant units."

The statement also said tenant service managers are on site at LMCH properties several days a week "and continue to respond to any urgent issues."

The statement also said LMCH has a resident contact at the building who deals with security and and maintenance problems.

With files from CBC's Rebecca Zandbergen

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