Zora Hlevnjak faces eviction from her Sidney apartment after depositing money raised from empty cans and donations. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

B.C. woman refuses to pay overdue rent based on income raised collecting empty cans

Portion that Zora Hlevnjak pays for subsidized rent went up after she reported more of her income

A 76-year-old woman in the Victoria area who collects empty cans to supplement her pension faces eviction after her rent was raised to include her income from the cans.

Zora Hlevnjak, a familiar figure in the community of Sidney, will be evicted on Jan. 21 from her subsidized housing unit because of failure to pay $1,087 for three months’ worth of rent following a rent increase.

Beacon Community Services, the organization that operates Wakefield Manor, raised Hlevnjak’s rent to 30 per cent of her income after she deposited money raised from collecting empty cans and donations from passersby.

Hlevnjak said she has formally challenged having to pay the rent, arguing the money from cans and donations does not qualify as income, and that she does not benefit from it because she sends it to her family in Croatia.

“I knew [the rules], but my mind doesn’t allow me to accept to pay [back-rent] from empties and from people that give me money for food,” she told Black Press Media over the course of two interviews. “I didn’t spend it and I don’t even have that money. I sent it to my people.”

Hlevnjak said she gets about $1,500 from the federal government through various pensions, and routinely sends money, including can deposits, to family members in Croatia every year since she came to Canada in 1966.

RELATED: More people are being evicted from subsidized housing in Victoria, experts say

A friend who accompanied her on the interview suggested she start looking after herself rather than others in a distant country, especially with rent due.

But Hlevnjak said her landlords don’t deserve the money. “They didn’t work hard for it. It was [a] gift for me.”

Tim O’Brien, who manages the building where she has lived since 2004, said tenants in subsidized housing must pay 30 per cent of their income towards rent, which is the affordable standard throughout the province

“We didn’t raise the rent. She just started to report her proper income,” he said, adding that tenants must also submit income tax statements, bank statements, and Service Canada statements each year to establish the 30-per-cent portion.

“Please understand – it’s not my choice to evict her,” O’Brien said. “We are not in the eviction business. We are in the accommodation business, helping and serving those who are less fortunate and who require subsidized housing.”

RELATED: New report finds many Sidney residents struggle with housing affordability

Hlevnjak says she blames herself for her situation. “I stupidly put in bank because I was afraid of fire and thieves.”

She repeated that she hasn’t used any money from cans or passersby. “I didn’t even spent five cents on my birthday,” said the woman, whose clothing hardly suggests a life in the lap of luxury.

She also acknowledged that she has trouble remembering things and admits to feeling stressed by the situation.

But her defiant tone and decision to seek legal support suggests the issue is far from settled.


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