WHALLEY — A resplendent billboard with a huge photo of a smiling young man, presumably depicting a future “Evolve” condominium owner, promises the “The Evolution of Affordable Luxury.”
Immediately across 104th Avenue, and in sight of Surrey City Hall and numerous residential towers under construction or already done, Bristol Estates apartments is bristling with fear and anger.
Roughly 20 tenants and members of ACORN, an organization that advocates for the poor, are staging a rally on the sidewalk out front on Tuesday to protest “deplorable” living conditions at that apartment block, waving signs and chanting for “healthy homes.”
“Our families have to live in these rotting conditions,” tenant Jennah Wells yells through a megaphone.
“I would not allow my snake to live in these houses.”
Motorists honk, presumably in support. But not everybody is on their side.
“Nothing but a bunch of treacherous bastards, all of you,” an old woman hollers as she barrels down the sidewalk on her Rascal scooter, making protesters leap out of her way.
Deeper inside the complex, other tenants are clearly upset by the rally but won’t speak with reporters.
Manager Richard G., who did not give his full last name, said Bristol Estates has roughly 200 tenants and only a small handful are complaining.
“If you keep your place clean, you won’t have any problems here,” he told the Now. “If it is reasonable, we will repair it. If they don’t mention it, how will we know?”
Out front, a man in a leg brace is sitting on the sidewalk. He’s wearing a parka and has a cane at his side. He introduces himself as Myron Sample (pictured).
“But I’m the real thing,” he follows up.
He and roommate Karen Alexander share a two-bedroom apartment at Bristol Estates, paying $900 a month. They complain of mold and rotten flooring.
“I walked out onto the balcony and fell through the floor up to my knee,” Sample said.
Later, during a tour of their suite, Alexander pulls up a corner of carpeting in one of the bedrooms and her hand disappears into a rotten hole in the floor.
But the manager claimed, “she was the one postponing the repair,” and it’s Bristol’s intention to fix it.
ACORN Canada has roughly 70,000 members and 20 neighbourhood chapters.
Over the years, Surrey’s members have taken on payday loans through companies they say charge harsh interest rates and fought for better security for tenants at Bon-Terra Apartments in Guildford in 2005. They staged a rally in 2006 calling on the city to clean up discarded condoms, needles and other garbage in Whalley’s parks, schoolyards and vacant lots. They rallied in 2012 for the landlord of Whalley’s Kwantlen Park Manor apartment building to repair rental property, and staged a rally at Surrey City Hall in 2015 calling on civic politicians to address the lack of affordable housing in the city.
During Tuesday’s rally, ACORN called on the City of Surrey to improve its existing minimum Standards of Maintenance bylaw to include structural issues, and take “a more proactive role” in enforcing the bylaws.
Surrey city councillor Vera LeFranc noted the city updated its Standards of Maintenance bylaw in 2012.
“From what I can see from what the complaints are, this is really under the Residential Tenancy Branch and the health department’s purview,” said LeFranc. “That is difficult for us to get involved in. Certainly if it’s anything to do with health and safety – no water, no electricity, if it’s a fire hazard, that’s where the bylaw comes into play for us.”
She added, “We don’t have jurisdiction over things like bed bugs and cockroaches. And improper maintenance is vague.”
Surrey’s bylaw manager Jas Rehal told the Now there haven’t been any complaints from tenants of Bristol Estates with respect to the Standards of Maintenance bylaw looking as far back as 2011.
When it comes to affordable housing, LeFranc said Surrey’s first-ever strategy is in the works. She expects a report to come to council within six months. While Surrey has long been known for rental affordability, LeFranc said “that’s shifting” and changing.
“We need to get ahead of the curve.”
With files from Amy Reid