Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chaos at the Cobalt

When I saw pastor Barry Morris on the front page of the Province newspaper yesterday, I recognized him. Years back he was a pastor at First United on the Downtown Eastside, until he knocked up one of the church women.

Morris has been in the news this week, along with City Councillor Susan Anton [NPA], calling for an independent inquiry into the death of three men in an East Vancouver flophouse. They say the City had known about the unsafe conditions in that house for some time but wasn't enforcing bylaws. Councillor Andrea Reimer [Vision] has responded by pointing out that the fire is believed to have started from a faulty electrical cord, so it wasn't directly related to the condition of the house. [Update Jan. 15/11: A report by a City inspector prior to the fire has now been released, a report in which concerns were raised about the reliance on electrical cords in the house.]

All flexible cords or extension cords that are being used as a substitute for fixed wiring in the building shall be removed and outlets installed where required.

Based on what we hear from tenants at the Cobalt Hotel, I agree with Morris and Anton that there seems to be lax enforcement of bylaws.

The Cobalt, which has been a slum for years, has been allowed to further deteriorate in recent months. Tenants have often found themselves with no running water in their rooms, no heat (the radiators not working), no hot water for showers, the toilets plugged. One tenant said, "I had to take a cold shower."

The toilets being plugged is the tenants' doing. But the other problems are not. Management does make an effort though. "They try," said one tenant, "They're always working on it." Maybe the City should work out a plan with them and do follow up.

The provincial government sends a wad of money to the Cobalt every month, as many of the tenants are welfare clients. The rents are $425 or $450 if I remember correctly. Can't some of this money go toward serious repairs?

The Cobalt did spray for bed bugs. The City gave a contract to Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to spray. Tenants wondered about the wisdom of the City hiring people with drug problems to go into people's rooms when they weren't there.

Sometimes, the chaos at the Cobalt is almost funny. A painter was working in the hallway and at the end of his shift, he set a five gallon can of paint in a corner along with his equipment, well out of everybody's way. Somebody picked up the five gallon can and poured it all the way down the carpeted hallway. The next day, the painter was painting the pipes, surrounded by this huge mess of paint.

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