Burst pipe forces more than 40 residents from affordable housing complex

Forty-two tenants at a Westboro affordable-housing complex have been forced from their homes after a burst sprinkler pipe flooded units over the weekend. 

Tenants likely out for weeks as charity appeals for help

A tarp covers a stove in an apartment.
Tarps cover possessions in the room where the sprinkler pipe burst. The resulting flooding has left 42 Ottawa Salus tenants either in hotels or living with family. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Forty-two tenants at a Westboro affordable-housing complex have been forced from their homes after a burst sprinkler pipe flooded units over the weekend.

Property manager Shannon Walker said she received the call around 7:30 a.m. Saturday and arrived soon after to find firemen in the lobby of the Ottawa Salus building on Scott Street.

"My office was flooded. The whole downstairs had about two inches of water," she said. 

"Ceiling tiles were hanging and falling from the ceiling. Power had to be shut off to a lot of areas. It was certainly overwhelming and quite terrifying."

With water gushing from a burst pipe for approximately 20 minutes, Walker estimates about 19,000 litres of water came pouring through. 

A piece of a sprinkler water pipe with a broken end.
Walker hold the pipe that burst over the weekend. She estimates about 19,000 gallons of water made it way through four floors of the Westboro housing complex. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Water ran from the fourth floor all the way to the basement, working its way through apartments, offices and community spaces. 

On Monday afternoon, floor tiles could be seen rising off the floor, paint peeling from the walls and wires exposed where ceiling tiles were removed. A heavy humidity permeated the most-affected rooms. 

"It was a disaster, basically," said Noella Mitchell, a tenant now staying at a downtown hotel.

Ottawa Salus Corporation, the affordable-housing charity that runs the complex, charges only $522 in rent for most units. 

'Doesn't look too promising'

Now those tenants are displaced, living either at hotels or with family, with Salus having little idea when they'll be able to move back in. 

"It doesn't look too promising for anything in the next few weeks," said Mark MacAulay, the non-profit's executive director. 

His team will know more about damage estimates by week's end, he said. 

A man stands outside of an apartment building.
MacAulay is Salus' executive director. The charity provides affordable housing for people living with poor mental health or substance use. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Walker said precautions were taken ahead of the weekend's cold weather — staff went to each unit, making sure windows were closed and heat was turned up. 

The tenant in the unit where the pipe burst had their heat up, she said, adding that the mechanical failure was seemingly no one's fault. 

Many living in the complex rely on the provincial government's Ontario Disability Support Program. 

MacAulay said with many coming from precarious living conditions before landing a unit, some of the first questions he heard were about whether they'd be pushed to the streets.

"Because they struggle so much in their life, this is not something that they would assume that they have a right to," he said. "That's the first question that comes to mind: 'Will I have a place to go home tonight? Will I lose it? Will anyone care for me?'"

Salus is asking the community to help, hoping to provide food for the tenants, many of whom would have just stocked their fridges around Feb. 1. 

Costs associated with temporary housing and helping replace furniture are also a concern. 

"Any support around that to help our clients through this, that's what's appreciated," MacAulay said. 

For tenants like Mitchell, little could be done to protect her belongings besides covering them with towels. 

She woke up Saturday morning believing it was a fire before someone eventually came and knocked on the door to let her know what was happening.

For now, Michell and her dog are OK and trying to make the best of their situation — thankful she has tenant insurance, but since she hasn't been able to return to her unit yet, not even sure of what's gone for good.

"To tell you right now, what I lost?" she said. "I don't know."