Tenants who use mobility devices stranded by elevator outage at downtown building

Residents at 145 Clarence St. say both of the building's elevators haven't worked for a week, stranding more than a dozen people who use mobility devices. The non-profit that owns the building has warned they'll likely have to wait another week before they'll be fixed.

Non-profit that owns building says broken part won't be replaced for another week

A woman who uses a wheelchair sits in front of a red-brick building wearing a purple dress and white sweater.
Laura Smallwood says the elevators at 145 Clarence Street have long had issues and should have been replaced. Both elevators stopped working about a week ago, leaving her no way to get back to her apartment. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Laura Smallwood was told if she wanted to access her home this week, she should call the fire department and ask them to carry her — and her 136-kilogram wheelchair — up several flights of stairs to her apartment.

Residents of 145 Clarence St. say both of the building's elevators haven't worked for a week, stranding more than a dozen people who use mobility devices. The non-profit that owns the building has warned they'll likely have to wait another week before it will be fixed.

"It leaves me homeless, pretty much," Smallwood said, waiting on the sidewalk outside while her mom went upstairs to retrieve some food and other supplies.

The pair had just returned from vacation, and Smallwood said while they were away, her brother had been trying to find answers about how she was supposed to get into the apartment when she got back.

That's when firefighters were first suggested by the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC), which manages the building, she said.

"[With] the likelihood that my wheelchair ... or myself get dropped going up flights of stairs, that's not a reasonable option," Smallwood said.

CCOC said no staff members were available for an interview on Friday, and did not respond directly to questions CBC sent by email. The corporation did share its most recent update for tenants.

A notice reading "Elevator Out of Service" is shown taped to a wall.
A notice warns tenants of 145 Clarence Street that both elevators in the building are not operational. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Building owner says parts failure was 'uncommon'

That update points to a "component failure" that impacts both elevators, noting the cars are "serviced regularly" and calling the failure "very uncommon."

It goes on to add that the broken component can only be sourced through a specific supplier.

"Although we are pressing the supplier very hard, the component is unlikely to be here until next week," it reads, adding the company that makes the part understands how urgent the situation is.

But Smallwood said the double-elevator outage is just the latest of many breakdowns, where at least one of the elevators doesn't work for hours at a time.

She called the issue "highly preventable," and called for the problem-prone elevators to be replaced.

A man who uses a wheelchair sits in front of a bookshelf.
Gerry Ward said the elevator outage at 145 Clarence Street has left him stuck inside his apartment and relying on a friend to bring him food. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Past issues left tenant stuck for hours

While Smallwood is stuck outside the building, Gerry Ward is trapped inside.

"For me personally, it's driving me crazy," he said. 

Summer days are precious because he's largely stuck indoors during the winter, he said. 

"I just don't want to see a snowflake when [the elevator] works."

With no way to get downstairs, Ward can't explore the city and had to turn to a friend who lives in another building to get him food.

He agrees with Smallwood that the elevators were "an accident waiting to happen" and described situations where people who live at 145 Clarence and use wheelchairs have been forced to sleep sitting in the lobby. 

"Many times I've been stuck downstairs for, I don't know, hours," said Ward.

"The last time the motor went out like this it took eight months. So in the back of my head, I just don't know if I can trust them."

A man who uses a wheelchair looks out over downtown Ottawa from an apartment balcony.
Gerry Ward says he's largely stuck in his apartment during the winter, making the summer months a crucial time to explore and enjoy the city. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

CCOC's website states it's a non-profit housing organization that works to create and maintain housing for people with a low or moderate income.

It's update says it keeps a list of those who require assistance and that staff have reached out to them. CCOC also mentions a partnership with VHA Home HealthCare offering 24/7 support, which it says supports "a significant number of the tenants who have mobility issues."

Smallwood said she's going to live in her mom's apartment for the week, which will require removing the doors to the bedroom and bathroom so her wheelchair fits.

While she's grateful for a place to stay, it doesn't have an accessible shower.

"It really makes people feel way more vulnerable in a situation they shouldn't have to, that's in their homes," she said.


Dan Taekema


Dan Taekema is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. He has worked with CBC News in Hamilton, Windsor and Toronto and for newspapers around southern Ontario. You can reach him by emailing