A diamond in the rough

Instead of mattresses, car parts and household garbage, Dawn Hrycun saw potential

To say the property at 230 Clapperton Rd. was a mess when Dawn Hrycun first saw it would be an understatement.

The lawn where freshly cut grass and a new wood gazebo now stand was littered with used mattresses, car parts and household garbage.

The two 40-year-old apartment buildings hadn't been painted in years and there were no planters filled with colourful flowers standing guard at their front doors.

"Good golly," she remembers saying on that day back in December 2009.

But beneath the years of neglect, there was something else - potential. Not just for the land, but for the people living among the disrepair.

"I saw a gem," said Hrycun, chairwoman of the Door to Roof Society.

The non-profit group provides people in need with affordable rental housing in Kamloops at a time when there is little available. With the assistance of B.C. Housing, the society was able to take out a mortgage on the North Shore apartments, known as Sunder Green, and begin renovating the buildings and landscaping the property.

To date, the society has spent about $530,000 on Sunder Green and Hrycun expects it will take $300,000 more to bring everything up to standard.

The degree of neglect was apparent as soon as Hrycun walked into one of the buildings. The carpet was a 1970 original and hadn't been cleaned in years.

"The smell was awful," she said. "It just hit you."

She learned neither building had an air-exchange system so every smell, be it cooked bacon or something far worse, worked its way into the walls and carpet.

Each apartment was assessed for what could stay and what had to go. Some only needed new kitchen counter tops. Others required considerably more work, she said.

A prime example is Unit 109 in the east building. Carpets and flooring needed to be pulled out and fresh tile set on the kitchen floor. The walls were painted and the bathtub had to be replaced.

A bedroom window looked like it suffered considerable water damage, Hrycun said. Contractors cut into the drywall to investigate but it turns out the brown stain was several years' worth of dirt.

"It was grime, grime, grime and some more grime," she said. "People were living in squalor."

All the hallways are covered in commercial grade linoleum tiles that look like hardwood. Hrycun said it wears well and is easy to repair when damage occurs.

At the top of the society's concerns is how living in a dirty, negative environment affected tenants. She said 230 Clapperton has a notorious reputation in the neighbourhood for drugs, thievery and other crimes.

Evictions were common at first and still continue. But they are fewer and farther between as apartments are renovated and new tenants move in.

Change, she said, is coming from within. Only 35 of the 70 apartments are currently livable. The goal is to fill them with seniors, families and students.

"If you put people in a dump . . . how do you expect people to respect you as an owner?" she asked.

The challenge now is getting people to move in. The rent is cheap -a one-bedroom apartment goes for $750, $680 for seniors. A two-bedroom rents for $900 or $825 for seniors.

Hrycun said the rent pays the society's mortgage. If the apartments don't rent, the bills don't get paid. So far, the society has received several inquiries, but Clapperton's reputation precedes it.

"We give the address and people don't want to come," said Hrycun. "We're working to change that."

As for the current tenants, the society hopes cleaning up the environment will encourage pride and a sense of community, So far, it looks like that is the case.

Hrycun said tenants are taking ownership of the property. Some water or tend the flower while others pick up garbage.

Bernice Root has lived at Sunder Green for more than a year. She said the transformation is making a difference as drug dealers and petty criminals are phased out in favour of regular folks.

"Lately it's been good," she said.

Root waters the flowers and sweeps up in front of the buildings. The work gets her out of her apartment and mingling with neighbours. And the positive feedback she gets keeps her smiling and working.

"It's about turning things around and putting a smile on your face," said Root.

To inquire about an apartment at Sunder Green, phone 250-376-5092.

jhewlett@kamloopsnews.ca

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