A sinking foundation under the west wing of Houston’s Cottonwood Manor has forced BC Housing to close six of the wing’s eight suites for seniors and people with disabilities.
Now, as BC Housing studies all options for the wing, people who live and work at Cottonwood say it would be a shame not to rebuild or repair it.
In the worst of the eight affected apartments, closest to Buck Creek, the floor has sunk so low that doorways stand at odd angles and a gap of more than two inches has opened between the ceiling and the kitchen wall.
Cathryn Olmstead is executive director of the Smithers Community Services Association, which took on care of Cottonwood Manor from the Houston Lions Club in 2010.
Olmstead says BC Housing has been grappling with what to do about the sinking west wing for some time.
The most affected suites have been closed for over a year.
“I think what complicates it is that there’s quite high vacancy rates in Houston,” Olmstead said.
Only five of the 22 suites at Cottonwood Manor are intended for assisted living, she explained, meaning that only those tenants receive regular meals, housekeeping and personal care from Northern Health.
Except for a rent subsidy, the other suites at Cottonwood are no different than a regular apartment rented elsewhere in town.
Nelsie Schaefer, a home care nurse who has clients at Cottonwood says she can see why, from a real estate perspective, spending a lot of money to rebuild the wing doesn’t seem to make sense while lots of other Houston apartments are empty.
But most of Houston’s vacant apartments are up the steep hill on Mountain View Road, said Schaefer—a long walk for elderly seniors and people with disabilities.
And besides the Pleasant Valley Village apartments, Schaefer said Houston has few apartments with ground-floor entrances like the one at Cottonwood.
“I’ve seen clients who live up on a third floor—there’s no way,” she said.
Patrick Tompkins, who lives at Cottonwood, knows exactly what that’s like.
A former roadie, Tompkins toured with B.C. rock bands like Doug and the Slugs and Powder Blues before his disability made it tough to walk.
While in Prince George, Tompkins lived in a third-floor apartment and had to use crutches long after he should have switched to a wheelchair.
“From what I came from, this is a luxury,” he says.
Today, Tompkins rents one of two apartments still open in Cottonwood’s west wing. His brother Charles, who also uses a wheelchair, rents the one across the hall.
“I can reach the doctor’s office, I can reach the drug store, the mall—location is totally key here,” he says.
“I’m surprised I don’t see more people in my boat.”
While he’s not looking forward to moving, Tompkins says he knows firsthand why BC Housing may have to take down Cottonwood’s west wing.
“When I had my manual chair, I learned to use that slant in the floor pretty well,” he said, pointing to a slope in his kitchen.
“Going that way it’s a free ride.”
Dave Jellett, a former member of the Houston Lions Club, says Cottonwood’s foundation troubles started not long after the Lions and the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation built it back in 1978.
“There’s not enough proper fill under the building, and it settles,” he said. “It’s been settling for 25 or 30 years.”
While the Lions Club ran the building, Jellett said they shored up the floor with extra timbers, concrete and steel supports.
Knowing those were stop-gap solutions, the Lions hired an engineer to cost out a complete fix.
Even in the early 1990s, Jellett said the estimates came in so high that the engineer said it was cheaper to tear down the old wing rather than repair it.