Significant improvements have been made to the River Valley Apartments following a rash of problems, says the building’s operator.
Problems have included drug use in the hallways and human waste left in the halls and stairwells of the downtown building.
Stan Schalk, co-owner of Potter’s Hands Ministries and developer of several affordable housing buildings in Red Deer, said they have hired a security company to go through the building a few times a night and have taken other security measures.
“The problem hasn’t been with tenants there, the problem has been sometimes when it is really cold out, people will break in,” said Schalk. “That’s when the issue comes. Now the security company can move people out of there, that’s what they have been doing for the last few weeks and I’m hearing and seeing that’s been pretty successful.”
The door from the laundry room to the outside, which was used by some people to enter the apartments, now has a deadbolt that is locked nightly.
Tenant fears of increased rent due to the use of a security company were quelled. Schalk said rents will not increase and have been the same since the building opened in 2009. Rents range from $400 to $600, including utilities, for units from a bachelor to a two-bedroom.
“We can’t arbitrarily raise the rent on people, we would have to approach the city and ask if we can get an increase,” said Schalk.
Rent has not been raised at the building since its opening. Schalk said he is not in the business of raising rents.
“We have permission in other buildings (Covenent Park and Riverside Meadows) to be charging more per month, from the provincial and federal government, and we still don’t do it. We’re committed to providing rent that is 25 per cent below market value, even though our contracts say we have to be 10 per cent.”
Schalk said he hopes to install a fob access system, eliminating the ability of non-residents to loiter in the foyer, waiting for a resident to open the door and follow them into the building.
“In a lot of apartment buildings the first entry is accessible to anybody and it is a heated area,” said Schalk. “Especially being downtown, people know that and they sleep in that foyer area.
“People ask me to describe what we’re doing and the best way to put it is ‘it is messy.’ There is a messiness to it. We’re dealing with a population for the most part, people want to keep invisible and believe they are not there. We don’t even want to admit sometimes that there are homeless people — there are 200, 300 homeless people in Red Deer on any given day and it is a big issue in our community, but it’s not an exact science.”
Tenants complained that non-residents seek shelter in the building, formerly known as the Rancher’s Valley Inn. They have discarded needles, drug bags and condoms on the ground. Residents have also described finding blood, feces and urine on the walls and floors.
Schalk said someone does go through the building every day to make sure it is clean.
‘We’re really trying to rent to people who are the hardest to house,” said Schalk.
“We’re not looking for the easiest tenants all the time, we’re looking for people who need affordable housing. That means we’re going to take risks with people and often those risks pay off and people do well.
“In many cases, we’re housing people nobody else would and I’d rather take those risks.”