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Spokane seniors tired of lack of heat

Some low-income seniors at the St. Andrew’s Court apartment complex feel they’ve been left in the cold.

The boiler-fired heating system in one of three buildings there broke down on April 6.

“It’s been an ongoing problem,” said resident Belle Dean-Strickler, 69. “Naturally, during the day right now we don’t need it. But in the mornings and the evenings it is quite cool. This is an all-senior apartment. A lot of them just freeze.”

Dean-Strickler said apartment managers are taking too long to address the problem. But Larry Soehren, vice president of Kiemle & Hagood Co., which manages the property, said the company has been working on it the whole time and provided each resident with a space heater until the work is completed.

“We were on it the day it went down,” Soehren said. “That was also when the space heaters were purchased. We’ve had several people working on the solution … daily since then.”

The small space heaters are inadequate, Dean-Strickler said, and some residents have been heating their units with their ovens.

“They brought a small area heater for each apartment, but it only warms a very small area,” she said.

St. Andrew’s Court is privately owned; rent is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the agency’s project-based assistance program. The building’s central heater has broken down on and off since Dean-Strickler moved in nearly six years ago, she said.

She believes the cost of a new system is preventing a permanent fix. But Soehren said, “Not true.”

“In fact, we have the money. The way HUD works is there’s reserve funds put aside specifically for repairs and improvements on things like this, but we have to get approval to have it released.” Managers first must collect bids for the work, then bids must be approved by HUD for the release of the money.

Lorraine Brookes, director of multifamily housing with Kiemle & Hagood, notified residents in a memo that work would begin on the heater this week and take seven to 10 business days to complete.

“It’s not ideal by any stretch from anybody’s standpoint,” Soehren said about the situation, adding, “unfortunately, there’s a bit of process behind it. Unfortunately, the breakdown occurred in some failed piping that was under concrete floors and it was not accessible to be repaired, so we had to engineer a new solution for piping to go overhead.”

Dean-Strickler and her husband, Joseph Strickler, 67, just don’t buy it.

“I don’t trust them because of all the promises that have been made in the past,” Dean-Strickler said. “I don’t know where to go. I don’t know how to proceed right now.”

Another resident, Eugene Moore, 75, echoed the couple’s frustration and like them said he believes the on-site manager isn’t doing his job.

“I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m going to move. Even when the heater is going on a good day, it’s still pretty cold.”

Strickler said his first-floor unit, which is partially below ground, was “freezing.”

“This is a crime,” he said. “You can’t do this to people, especially elderly people, people in walkers and wheelchairs. Would you want your mother living like this? Or your father?”

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