'Basically homeless': Residents doubt they'll ever live in Hay River highrise again

More than a dozen people do not have a place to live two months after a fire at an apartment building in Hay River, N.W.T., and some doubt they'll ever be able to return.

Apartment filled with asbestos, lead paint and mould that owner is required to fix

Gabrielle Sky Landrie lived in apartment 403 in the Mackenzie Place apartments in Hay River, N.W.T. She's now trying to renovate an old trailer to make it suitable for her and her partner. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Water drips from the ceilings, electrical panels expose wiring from decades ago, and plumbing snakes through the wood framing in Gabrielle Sky Landrie's trailer. 

She recently spent her first night in the place, just to see what it was like. It's clearly not ready for her and her partner to move in.

"I own this, but there's major renovations, major bills — more than I thought," she said. "It's not livable. I have to do electrical work, I need to do plumbing. I need heat. Right now the renovations, they're going slowly. Really slowly."   

It's a massive repair job. But Landrie has no choice. After two months of searching, it's the only permanent solution she's found after a fire at Mackenzie Place apartments in Hay River, N.W.T., forced her from her home.

She says charity from her community and income assistance from the government have run out. Now, Landrie and her partner are left to fend for themselves.

"If you want to say, 'You're basically homeless,' Yeah we are," she said. "If it wasn't for my sister-in-law Eliza Dobbs, we'd be living in my truck."

Gabrielle Landry sits on her front porch at the trailer she's renovating. She says without help from her sister-in-law, she'd be living in the truck parked out front. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Landrie uses a wheelchair because of a degenerative disease in her spine and is unable to find work. Her partner works part-time as a nurse to support the couple. She bought the trailer from a niece with money from rent that was returned to them after the fire. 

"We try to make ends meet as much as possible, any extra cash that we have left over, we're putting it into here. It's not a lot, let's put it that way," she said.

Landrie's one of at least more than a dozen people in Hay River still looking for a home following the fire at the end of March. The 11th-storey-fire displaced about 150 people after officials ordered that the building remain unoccupied, citing extensive damage.

Since then, officials have found asbestos, mould, lead paint and water damage from firefighting efforts, which make that apartment unsuitable for residents.

Owner responsible for repairs

Harry Satdeo, who owns the building, is responsible for making the necessary repairs so people can live there again. He has to submit plans for repairs to the territorial government for approval.

Satdeo has not done that yet, explained Jay Boast, a spokesman for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, one of four regulatory authorities responsible for monitoring the building. 

"Responsibility to fully determine the scope of the damage and to establish a plan to address those issues rests entirely with the owner," he said in a statement. "We have not seen any plans for remediation." 

The territory's fire marshal continues to investigate the cause of the fire, he said.

Flames and smoke billow from the Hay River highrise building during the March 19 fire. (Submitted by Gabrielle Sky Landrie)

Satdeo did not return a phone call or email message seeking comment for this story.

Hay River North MLA RJ Simpson raised this issue in the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly late last month, demanding answers about when people can return to their homes.

He says he doubts Satdeo will make the repairs and is working to get residents access to their units to remove things they've left behind.

Right now, contractors are assessing the building for health risks so people can get in on a temporary basis and will submit a plan to the government. But there isn't a timeline for when that process will be complete, according to Health Minister Glen Abernethy, who provided that update to Simpson in an email.

Landrie doubts anyone will ever return to live in the apartment building ever again. 

"The highrise? That's not livable in my opinion," she said. "That thing should be torn down, without question."


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