Old buildings need sprinklers: Council

The fire that destroyed an Uptown apartment block in January could have been a lot worse. While residents of the 32 suites lost their homes and all their possessions, there were no injuries or deaths.

But that’s little comfort to New Westminster city council.

They want senior levels of government to help owners of older apartment buildings install sprinkler systems. Most of the city’s wood-frame walk-up buildings pre-date the requirement to install sprinklers. About half the city’s population lives in such buildings.

“That’s substantial,” said Mayor Wayne Wright.

Another fire last August in a walk-up building at 222 Ash St. forced 68 residents from their homes.

“We’ve seen the horrors of fire in New West,” said Coun. Chuck Puchmayr, who forwarded the motion to council.

He said owners of most older apartment buildings can’t afford to install sprinklers without displacing tenants and raising rents. Or worse, bulldozing their structures and putting up new, more expensive ones.

“If we force them to do it, the impact would be renovictions,” said Puchmayr.

And that would make it even more difficult for people to find affordable housing, said Coun. Bill Harper.

“When you step back, it’s all about the money,” said Harper, who suggested the city ask the Union of BC Municipalities to support the motion. “It’s time for senior levels of government to step up. People’s lives are at stake.”

“There’s a real crisis out there,” said Puchmayr.

“We hope they can come to the table to make the housing we currently have safer.”


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