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Housing repair spending raises questions

Courtesy Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

After a long period of unrest in the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) housing department, an increased budget for housing renovation and repairs suggests more stability and long-term maintenance of community members’ homes. But for some community members, it’s becoming hard to keep up hope.

“My biggest problem right now is these stupid closet doors,” said one community member in an interview with The Eastern Door who insisted on anonymity for fear of compromising her housing. “They’re just always breaking. I have two toddlers, and they knocked off almost every door.”

Our source explained that conversations with other community members indicated similarly weak furnishing issues in their homes too.

“My neighbor has had problems too. She told me, ‘it’s not you and your kids, it’s because they’re cheap,’” they said. “Things aren’t built to last.”

Continued issues with furnishings in the home have led to the community member fearing for her children’s safety. In one instance, a closet door that wouldn’t stay on its hinges popped off, and with nowhere else to put the door, they set it aside. This resulted in their child running into the door and hitting their head.

“The next day I barely bumped the other door with my elbow, and it came off too,” they said.

Though MCK has responded relatively quickly to complaints about repairs, the community member noted that the never-ending list of repairs means things are breaking faster than MCK can fix them. The doors that popped off their hinges had been installed only two months prior.

“My house is only three years old, so it’s one of the newer ones,” they said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Other issues in their home include a shower rail that fell down within one month of moving in, a shelf that collapsed three times and flimsy walls.

One wall “ripped” after a guest leaned back on a lounge chair, according to the community member, who alleges that though MCK patched the hole, they never returned to their property to sand down the damage. 

“The shelf scared me because one time it happened in the middle of the night, and all my food ended up on the floor,” they said. “It’s lucky it fell then, because one of these days my kids are going to go in there, and they’re going to get hurt.”

The release of MCK’s annual report revealed audited expenses for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, as well as projected expenses for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. For the 2021-2022 year, MCK spent only $1,463 on housing repairs. 

For the 2022-2023 year, MCK’s budget for housing repairs has ballooned, with the council expecting to spend $265,102 on repairs.

“I cannot give you the exact reason why it was so low in the past, that was a question I had myself as well,” said MCK housing director Areti Malliarou, who assumed her position in August 2021. “It seems like previous management had neglected some repair costs, or they were not audited properly. But now we are on the right track.”

Malliarou explained that she was present to discuss the projected budget for the 2022-2023 year. For the previous fiscal year, 2021-2022, Malliarou noted she was “fully aware and in discussions with council” regarding the audited expenses, but she was not housing director when those expenses were budgeted. Prior to Malliarou’s arrival, the role of housing director was unfilled for around two years. 

“I think it’s widely known in the community that repairs and renovations are needed, so this is what we tried to show in the projected budget,” she explained. Malliarou also noted that the increased budget was also compensating for the past year’s low expenditure. 

There has been some confusion over whether renovation and repair work is the responsibility of the tenant or of the MCK. Malliarou explained that this is dependent on the complaint, and that for those who moved in a long time ago, repairs may fall on the tenant.

“If you are in the house and you accepted with signature the legal agreement and conditions in which you received the house, and everything was fine, let’s say many years ago, then it’s the responsibility of the tenant to maintain the basic standards of the housing unit,” she explained. “But current tenants that do have issues, we inspect again and revisit the safety measures and see what renovations are going to take place.”

MCK chief Ryan Montour expects many essential repairs to take place with the additional funding allocated to the housing department. 

“There’s different programs that they’re implementing this year, which includes a lot of window replacements that haven’t been replaced in a long time,” he said. “There’s also a lot of turnover within community housing at this time, so when that happens there’s going to be a lot more repairs for new tenants to move in.”

Montour explained that most units were built in 1986 and were expected to last about 80 years when they were built. With them now being around halfway through their lifespan, wear and tear is to be expected, he noted.

“Clients have questions, asking if maybe in the past the process was mismanaged, but the way things are going is proof that our process is working,” he said. Currently, repairs are managed by MCK employees. “We have our own housing repair and maintenance guys on staff, the inspection process has been tightened up. We’re confident moving forward.”

The MCK housing department has seen controversies over the past years, resulting in many departures and new additions to the team. Malliarou is hopeful that new employees will forge a more stable path going forward, that provides cost-effective housing plans with better accountability. However, community members remain skeptical about future management of funds.

“It’s just stupid, because a lot of the things they do are all temporary fixes,” said the community member reached by The Eastern Door. “Nothing’s going to last. So at the end of the day, they’re just spending more money.”

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door, and was previously an Editor at the McGill Daily. She has also reported on harm reduction and Indigenous issues for the Montreal Gazette, the Hoser, the Rover, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door, and was previously an Editor at the McGill Daily. She has also reported on harm reduction and Indigenous issues for the Montreal Gazette, the Hoser, the Rover, and more.