Conflict over Olympic Village energy bills continues to heat up
As theGeorgia Straight went to press on September 21, uncertainty continued to linger over how the conflict over energy charges at the Olympic Village would be resolved. The dispute has pitted low-income tenants and seniors on subsidy against the City of Vancouver, a housing-management group, and a private billing company.
Earlier in the week, it looked like it was going down to this: either the residents would pay up or they’d get evicted.
“They’re not giving us even one concession, not a thing,” Pam Burge complained in a phone interview with the Straight on September 19.
Burge is a resident at 80 Walter Hardwick Avenue, a social-housing facility that has been advertised as a net-zero building. This means that it is supposed to be not only a model of energy efficiency, but also one that produces as much or even more energy than it consumes.
However, Burge and a number of residents have protested that they are being zapped with enormous energy charges that are being billed by Enerpro Systems Corp., a North Vancouver–based company.
For example, Burge, who lives alone in a one-room apartment, got an Enerpro bill for the period April 7 to April 30 for $85.16, which included an activation charge of $28. The bill covered heating, hot water, cooling, and cold water.
Residents at the Olympic Village also get a separate bill from B.C. Hydro for their electricity consumption.
Burge has maintained that residents were not made aware of Enerpro and the energy bills levied on top of the rent they have to pay, which is 30 percent of their incomes.
COHO Property Management Society operates 80 Walter Hardwick and another social-housing facility at 122 Walter Hardwick, as well as a housing cooperative at 151 West 1st Avenue, on behalf of the city.
COHO had previously informed residents that the City of Vancouver would cover their energy costs from June to August 2011 as concerns over Enerpro bills were being sorted out.
Enerpro billings will resume this month. At a meeting called by COHO on September 15, residents of 80 Walter Hardwick were told that they’ll receive the new invoices by October.
Present at the meeting were COHO executive director Thom Armstrong and Jennifer Standeven, assistant director of business operations in the city’s community services group.
In an interview on September 19, Armstrong told the Straight: “The tenancy agreements are very clear that utilities are not included in the rent. I hope that once everyone has thought about it, they’ll realize that paying for utilities is an obligation that they have. If they don’t, then ultimately we would have to seek the remedies that are available under the tenancy agreement.”
Asked about the range of remedies COHO may utilize, Armstrong responded: “We have to send notice demanding payment. Ultimately, I guess Enerpro and the neighbourhood energy utility [which is owned by the city] would have to try and collect the amounts, but if they’re not successful in collecting the amounts, then I think we have no choice but to begin eviction proceedings.”
However, on September 20, Armstrong sent emails to the Straight indicating that his comments the day before “are no longer accurate or applicable”.
Then, on the morning of September 21, Armstrong told the Straight by phone that COHO was still considering its options in dealing with the tenants. He said he couldn’t provide details.
Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer and Non-Partisan Association councillor Suzanne Anton have met Burge and other tenants to discuss their concerns.
At the September 15 meeting, Anton, who is the NPA’s candidate for mayor in the November election, and Mike Klassen, a council candidate for the NPA, showed up to listen but were turned away by a guard.
Armstrong explained, “The city’s advice was to have a security guard at the meeting.”
COHO had previously told the tenants that they will no longer be charged for cold water, and that their future bills will not include the 12-percent harmonized sales tax.