Facing eviction from subsidized housing in Sidney, Zora Hlevnjak welcomes offers of help, but says she will fight her rent increase. She refuses to pay $1,087 for three month’s worth of rent after Wakefield Manor raised her rent because of rising income thanks to money from collecting cans and donations (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Island woman facing eviction receives offers of help, questions about honesty

Zora Hlevnjak welcomes help but rejects suggestions that she is scamming people

The uncertain fate of a familiar Sidney figure facing eviction from her subsidized rent apartment has generated a wide range of reactions.

Zora Hlevnjak, a 76-year-old Sidney woman, who has been collecting empty cans for years to supplement her pension, faces eviction from Wakefield Manor because of failure to pay $1,087 for three month’s worth of rent following a rent increase. Beacon Community Services, the organization that operates the facility, raised Hlevnjak’s rent to 30 per cent of her income after she deposited money raised from collecting empty cans and donations. Subsidized housing rules require to submit financial statements as part of an annual review.

Hlevnjak has so far refused to pay the outstanding rent, claiming among other points, that the money received from cans and the donations, does not qualify as income. She argues that Beacon Community Services does not deserve the money, in part because she worked hard for it. She also argues that she does not benefit from the money, that she sends to her family in Croatia. According to her, she has formally challenged the rent increase.

RELATED: Sidney woman has launched petition to help senior facing eviction

RELATED: Sidney woman refuses to pay back rent on income raised collecting empty cans

Public reactions to Hlevnjak’s situation, as measured by digital and analog responses, on the whole favour Hlevnjak, but this tendency is far from universal.

Perhaps Hlevnjak’s biggest supporter is Dave Lloyd, owner of Victoria Drain Services based in Saanich, who has offered to pay the outstanding rent on a one-time basis.

Lloyd, who has never met or heard of Hlevnjak before, said he is offering to pay her rent because the rules that require Hlevnjak to pay do not strike him right. “This is kind of B.S., and I can afford to do it, so why not help somebody out,” he said with the proviso that he does not know all of the facts surrounding the case. “It just seems they are kicking somebody, who is down,” he added later. “There are a lot more people who wouldn’t deserve it.”

Hlevnjak has also received the support from at least 890 individuals who have signed a petition calling on Beacon Community Service not to evict Hlevnjak. Social media postings also tend to express support for Hlevnjak. This said, the story escapes a simple black-and-white narrative, because Hlevnjak said she is aware of the rules about the 30-percent-income threshold and the requirement to submit financial information, with several comments on Facebook referencing these rules.

Other comparable voices include Robert Duqette, who lives in Wakefield Manor. He says some of the residents are getting ready to offer a different side to the story. Specifically, they would like people to understand the real rules of living in subsidized housing and what the rules are surrounding collecting money and not reporting it, he said.

“These people in the petition simply do not understand the difference between collecting bottles as a non-profit, and collecting bottles and accepting when you are living in subsidized housing that is paid by the taxpayers,” he said.

He added later that he has reported the additional income he makes from selling home-made blackberry pies made out of blackberries he picks himself. “My rent has gone up a little bit this season, and it has gone up every year since I have been here,” he said. This said, he welcomes the direct offer of financial help, while also wondering whether it would make any difference in the long-run.

The Peninsula News Review has also received comments that question Hlevnjak’s decision to send money to Croatia, while living in subsidized — read taxpayer-financed — housing with the less-than-subtle charge that she is scamming Canadians for the benefit of foreigners.

As background, the eastern European country of Croatia is a member of the European Union. According to the World Bank, each of Croatia’s 4.09 million residents had gross national income of $27,180 US in 2018. By way of comparison, the corresponding figure for Canada is $47,590 US.

“No, sir,” said Hlevnjak, when asked about this charge. “If I am, let me pay the penalty to God if I am scamming. The money that government gives me, the money that people have given to me for food, I have saved that all, and gave it all to them [in Croatia], which I thought was perfect.”

Hlevnjak said her extended relatives in Croatia are genuinely poor, noting that their home town of Koprivnica has seen better days after the closure of a factory and loss of surrounding forests. Basic daily items such as rice are scarce and expensive in light of low local wages.

She also rejected suggestions that her extended relatives are scamming her. “They are not rich — I’m positive. They are not scamming me. They spend their money on food, on clothes, on burning wood, which is expensive.”

Hlevnjak welcomes the petition and the offer by Llyod to pay her outstanding rent, but remains adamant in her defiance.

“That sounds very nice, but did Wakefield Manor, Beacon Community Services [and BC] Housing deserve that?” she asked rhetorically.


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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

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