Mayor Hobbs Shocked by Conditions in Limbrick Neighbourhood

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The Playground at Windsor Complex litter all over, much has been there for weeks according to tenants.
The Playground at Windsor Complex

Touring Thunder Bay Housing Complexes is a Trip to Third World Conditions

THUNDER BAY – “I don’t shock easily given my policing background but today I was shocked,” stated Mayor Keith Hobbs. The Mayor’s comments followed a walking tour of the Limbrick Neighborhood in Northwood on Tuesday.

Thunder Bay District Housing operates the facility which is listed as being for families. However, in a walk in the Limbrick neighbourhood, with Mayor Keith Hobbs, the condition of the neighbourhood is anything but child-friendly according to the Mayor.

Asked if he would allow his granddaughter to play in Limbrick’s playgrounds, the Mayor stated: “Absolutely not”.

Children sliding down the slide catch their feet and fall face first in Limbrick.
Children sliding down the slide catch their feet and fall face first in Limbrick.

Why? There is animal waste in the playgrounds, there are logs which are growing mould, the sidewalks are littered with broken glass. There are litter and broken glass along with hazards that a lack of maintenance have created. A bike park that was first opened a few years ago is overgrown with weeds and is called the “Mud Park” by residents. The bike park took over an area residents used for barbeques, volleyball and tetherball, and is now basically no longer usable. The park seems mostly to be a place where a few partiers in one of the nearby units toss their empties.

Limbrick faces many challenges. It increasingly appears the management of the facility is one of the bigger problems
Limbrick faces many challenges. It increasingly appears the management of the facility is one of the bigger problems

Lighting for the playgrounds is another concern. Fire Fighters tell Netnewsledger that the light in the playground was not on the night they responded to the call where a young man was stabbed. They said in discussion that it was pitch black that night.

Insufficient Lighting Means Unsafe Conditions

Limbrick playground now that the light has been fixed.
Limbrick playground now that the light has been fixed.

Little wonder, there is one small LED light to illuminate the entire area. The light has been repaired since the homicide. However at night in the park residents tell NetNewsLedger it is still scary.

This un-retouched image of the playground in Limbrick at night demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the single LED light
This un-retouched image of the playground in Limbrick at night demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the single LED light

Mayor Hobbs stated that the condition of the Thunder Bay Housing facility was “Third world in nature” and is promising that things will be made right in Limbrick.

However, the Mayor’s efforts may be attempted to be blunted by Bill Bradica the Chief Administrative Officer of Thunder Bay District Social Services. The Mayor has been told that Limbrick is “Private Property” and that he will be getting a letter from DSSAB informing him of that point of view.

Thunder Bay taxpayers put $18million into Thunder Bay District Social Services annually. Bill Bradica, as CAO of the TBDSSAB, is paid $157,707 annually, and Ken Ranta the manager responsible for housing operation is paid $121,706 annually. (2015 figures) There are a total of six employees from TBDSSAB who are on the Ontario Sunshine List. The total of their six salaries is over $900,000.

Mayor Hobbs and other members of City Council have been in Thunder Bay Housing facilities and properties before, however often those visits are known about ahead of time.

This walk which was scheduled with members of the Limbrick Tenant Association and members of the LTA Advisory Board was not done with the participation of management. That was due to concerns from tenants that unless the Mayor was to see the real-life conditions that Limbrick residents live in every day, making change possible would be far more difficult. In Limbrick, a number of tenants were concerned after months of inaction on some of the very obvious issues, like the mailbox, that Mayor Hobbs needed to see Limbrick as it really is for them.

Tenants in Limbrick have been expressing that they do not seem to be able to effect change by talking to their DSSAB workers or housing officials with Thunder Bay Housing.

The response from the DSSAB management that the Mayor should not be allowed in the neighbourhood, leaves the families in Limbrick without voices to their elected officials, and based on conditions found in the walk, leaves them in a family-unfriendly neighbourhood.

It is in many ways perhaps worse. Following the Mayor’s walk, and his comments to the TBDSSAB to fix the mess. The response from management was more toward pointing blame at everyone but the managers, and staff.

Issues remain unresolved for years?!

Some of the issues raised with the Mayor earlier this week are not new. They have been brought forward to housing managers and DSSAB officials as well as City Councillors. A few of the issues were first raised as long as three years ago, and there have been no solutions to the problems.

There have been ward Councillors, at-large-Councillors and support workers from DSSAB engaged, who have been made aware of the issues but have not been able to solve what should be simple issues.

It now appears, perhaps that the problem could be far deeper than first looks demonstrate. Managers at District Social Services appear more interested in protecting their turf and jobs than ensuring a safe neighbourhood for families.

Crime report for Limbrick
Crime report for Limbrick over the summer

Over recent months, Limbrick has seen violent assaults and a homicide right in the community playground. During the walkabout, the litter in the public areas, including the playground were not a positive sight.

Several of the play areas for children are basically community litter boxes for feral cats and other animals.

Crime is increasingly out of control in the neighbourhood, and efforts to fix the problem are made harder because many people in the neighbourhood are equally frightened by the growing presence of gangs.

The family of the victim have told NetNewsLedger that their request for video footage from the community’s closed-circuit video cameras is said to be impossible because the cameras in the Limbrick complex don’t work. NetNewsLedger is seeking a response from City Councillors on this issue.

The fence surrounding the construction site was down for five days. After Mayor Hobbs visit the fence was put back up
The fence surrounding the construction site was down for five days. After Mayor Hobbs visit the fence was put back up

Construction work on one of the buildings in Limbrick saw the protective fence around the building down for the five days prior to the Mayor’s walk in the neighbourhood. After the Mayor’s visit and his comments to DSSAB, that fence has been put back up.

Children’s toys were down at the bottom of the pit which is apparently there to repair the weeping tile. The sides of the pit are not shored up, making the unprotected area that has attracted children to play a dangerous situation.

Asked about the situation in Limbrick, Northwood Ward Councillor Shelby Ch’ng responded, “I am responsible for a lot more than just Limbrick”. Asked if she would visit the neighbourhood to talk to residents, Ch’ng said, “I also have no admin staff and a part-time budget”. Councillor Ch’ng is on the Board of Directors for the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board.

The common areas of the Limbrick neighbourhood were the focus of the Mayor’s walk.

Ch’ng stated, “Tenants are responsible for submitting work orders”, and that “There are no work orders in… Just checked with head of Housing. Tenants are responsible for submitting work orders”.

Fungi on logs in Limbrick playground
Fungi on logs in Limbrick playground image from Sept 30 2016

Over the past several months, tenants tell NetNewsLedger that they have made several maintenance issues known to housing, one being fungus and mould growing on logs in the playground. Tuesday’s walk demonstrated that some action had been taken, the fungi had been scrapped off the logs. By Saturday it was growing back.

Limbrick Mailbox July 19 2016
Limbrick Mailbox July 19 2016
Mailbox in Limbrick on August 27 2016
Mailbox in Limbrick on August 27 2016

The community mailbox in Limbrick, which is not a Canada Post mailbox, has been in severe disrepair since July. This mailbox is located a few metres from the maintenance building and certainly could not have been missed by supervisors or managers even if maintenance staff in Limbrick had not noticed it.

The community mailbox has remained un-repaired for months. Residents who have had their mailboxes broken into end up charged $7 for a new key, which many families cannot afford. Canada Post won’t repair the mailbox as it is not their mailbox, Limbrick remains listed as door-to-door mail delivery. However, with the broken mailboxes, those residents, since July have remained without mail.

Councillor-at-Large Aldo Ruberto asked if this is acceptable responded, “Obviously someone broke them”. Councillor Ruberto is on the Board of Directors for the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board.

Laundry facilities in Limbrick, tenants told Mayor Hobbs are in a building where there is mould. The facility is closed weekends, even though it is only accessible by keylock. Tenants report that the machines are old, and often loads of laundry must be washed repeatedly in order to clean their clothes.

While the DSSAB CAO is seemingly willing to tell the Mayor he isn’t welcome in Limbrick, that same degree of diligence does not appear to apply to people who are making life in the neighbourhood self-described by a number of residents, “a living hell” with loud partying going on all hours of the night.

Those views are echoed by firefighters and police officers who joke that they should simply establish a permanent station in the neighbourhood. There is a unit in Limbrick where there once was a community police presence, however that unit has remained empty for years.

Several parents told NetNewsLedger they simply will not allow their children to play outside in Limbrick over concerns they have for their children’s safety.

The housing facility does not have enough garbage facility storage. Residents are often forced to leave their trash in bags outside of the garbage buildings, where rats and skunks tear open and scatter the garbage.

Mayor Hobbs told the Crime Prevention Council on Wednesday night that conditions in Limbrick are unsatisfactory.

CAO Bill Bradica and his staff have moved toward doing something. They are putting all the blame on the tenants.

Following the Mayor’s walkabout, TBDSSAB issued a letter to tenants in Limbrick.

Thunder Bay Housing, in response to the concerns with garbage in the common areas, has responded with a new policy.

Elizabeth Simmons, the Property Management Officer in that letter to Limbrick tenants states, “We do our part to hep (sic) maintain your neighbourhoods so that it is clean and neat. We are asking that all tenants take pride in their neighbourhood and start picking up the garbage, keep the front and back patio areas neat and organized and stop leaving the garbage outside the sheds.”

The new policy from TBSSAB: “Effective immediately, if any garbage bags are left outside the front of or back of your unit or if you are seen on camera putting garbage at the garbage sheds and not placing it inside you will be charged a nuisance fee of $25.00 per incident.”

This new policy appears in place for Limbrick for now. However, it likely will be imposed on Thunder Bay Housing projects. NetNewsLedger was invited into Windsor, and Academy on the weekend after residents there expressed concerns that they too are struggling with similar conditions in their neighbourhoods.

In Academy, some homes are left with walkways covered in trees and weeds. Walkways and driveways are lined with tall weeds.

A symbol of hate painted on a wall in Academy and left for months according to tenants.
A symbol of hate painted on a wall in Academy and left for months according to tenants.

In Academy alongside one of the units, a swastika has remained painted on the wall for months according to tenants.

The Playground at Windsor Complex litter all over, much has been there for weeks according to tenants.
The Playground at Windsor Complex litter all over, much has been there for weeks according to tenants.
The backyard of Unit 16 in Windsor, home of the Community Action Group. The broken window was replaced, but the broken glass left where it presents a danger and a liability
The backyard of Unit 16 in Windsor, home of the Community Action Group. The broken window was replaced, but the broken glass left where it presents a danger and a liability

It does not have to be this way. The City of Thunder Bay Parks takes care of a lot of parks. Thunder Bay District Social Services are responsible for the playgrounds in their housing complexes.

Picton Park, neat, clean, safe a stark contrast to how TBDSSAB maintains playgrounds
Picton Park, neat, clean, safe a stark contrast to how TBDSSAB maintains playgrounds
Picton Park, a safer place for youth and children to play. No Smoking signs are present and adhered to. The ground material is not used by animals as a litter box.
Picton Park, a safer place for youth and children to play. No Smoking signs are present and adhered to. The ground material is not used by animals as a litter box.
Proper lighting assures that parks are safer for people.
Proper lighting assures that parks are safer for people.
Problems Seen in Thunder Bay Housing Project Common Areas:

Broken glass puts a serious liability issue to the city. Garbage has been allowed to gather up for periods of up to ten days in common areas. Keeping common areas clean, can help install a sense of pride in the neighbourhood.

In the playground, instead of removing mould infested logs, the mould was simply sliced away. This makes it appear as a solved problem but leaves children at risk. The fungi grow back in days.

Issues with maintenance remain a concern to residents but not apparently to management. Tenants report that if they report issues they then feel targeted by housing officials. This is not how to build respectful relationships.

In a city with a housing shortage, many of the Limbrick units remain empty. Some have remained empty for a long time. The same holds true for other TB Housing projects.

Some of the units have issues with asbestos. Yet there appears no plan in place to start dealing with the problem. Residents in Limbrick are left wondering if they are at risk.

Solutions

The Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board is responsible for the Thunder Bay Social Housing.

The Mission Statement at  The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board states:

  1. Acknowledge that all people have the right to dignity, respect and quality of life.
  2. Respect the diversity of cultures, skills and abilities of all people.
  3. Work in partnership with stakeholders to find innovative solutions.
  4. Provide opportunities for life-long learning that are responsive to people’s needs.
  5. Embrace open communication
  6. Effectively manage our human and financial resources.

Moving to solutions likely means that the CAO and managers at the DSSAB should start following their own vision.

Treating people with respect and dignity and working to improve the quality of life will help build better neighbourhoods.

City Council can assist in making sure that city resources are focused on a wider range of neighbourhoods. Councillors on the TBDSSAB Board and Board Members should be going on walkabouts in the housing projects on regular times which management and administration are not informed about. This spot-check method would assist Councillors in ensuring liability and safety issues are dealt with in a respectful manner.

An investigation into the amount of time Board Members has to do the full due diligence of their responsibilities.

First Nation leaders, many of whom have residents living in the city can help with focused efforts, funding and support.

To solve the problems in the neighbourhood it is time to take down the silo walks and start working together.

All of Thunder Bay’s Housing projects should be places that any member of City Council or the public can walk into without fear of retribution.

Assisting people in the community to help each other and to help themselves is likely to generate real long term solutions.