The future of a small care home that supports Calgary seniors and people with disabilities is in limbo as the province reviews its fire code requirements for residential group homes.

Dawit Mulugeta and his wife opened a care home in a modified Woodbine house in 2020.

He said it needs a City of Calgary fire code report to get an Alberta Health licence, allowing potential residents access to provincial subsidies to help cover their housing costs.

However, the city stopped doing fire code inspections for their type of business, located in a residential dwelling, four years ago.

“It’s impossible, it’s blocked by the City of Calgary,” said Mulugeta. “There are lots and lots of people, seniors and people with disabilities, waiting for a home to be placed, and we are here, empty house waiting for them but we can not get them.”

In a statement Wednesday, the City of Calgary said it stopped conducting the inspections for “residential group homes or foster homes in a residential dwelling due to a gap in the various regulations that do not clearly allow for the application of fire and building code requirements for those uses.”

The city said it was directed by the province to pause inspections on residential supportive living accommodations as the regulations were reviewed.

“We recognize there are many people who have been impacted by this and we empathize with the challenges this situation presents,” the city said in the statement.

The province, however, disputed the city’s claim in a statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying there is no current direction from the Government of Alberta to the city to pause the inspections.

“Pauses on inspections and enforcement were requested related to the review of the Persons with Developmental Disabilities under the NDP government in 2015 and 2016. They have since been lifted,” Scott Johnston, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, said in the statement.

“There is no legal or legislative barrier to the City of Calgary carrying out fire inspections on any supportive living accommodation that is more than three persons receiving care/treatment under the Supportive Living Accommodation Licensing Act (SLALA).”

Until the pause is lifted, the future of the Mulugetas care home will be up in the air.

Dawit started the care home in the southwest neighbourhood with his wife Mekdes, a health-care aid, who works at the facility.

Mekdes has worked in the industry for 15 years and has seen the need for more spaces and different options for accessible housing.

The Mulugeta’s facility currently has two residents but could accommodate at least two more.

Operating below capacity could soon make it unaffordable for the owners to offer this option to people in need, including Paul Maric.

Maric said he has cerebral palsy and a shunt in his head and needs support 24/7.

“I get seizures, they can happen at any time, so someone has to be here,” Maric said.

He also needs help with some tasks including showering and shaving.

“Because I’m both one-handed and only have sight in one eye,” he said.

The small residential care facility allows him space, freedom and the comforts of home.

“I try to be as independent as I can. I can do my laps, hang out in my room,” Maric said.

He also enjoys playing board games with the Mulugeta family and staff, and is concerned that facilities like this may be at risk.

“That really disappoints me," he said.

Mulugeta said he offered to get a private fire inspection instead, but Alberta Health requires it from the City of Calgary.

They don’t want to operate outside Calgary, but due to the circumstances, are considering selling the home and opening a similar facility somewhere else in Alberta.

“This is a fantastic place to live," Maric said.

“It very much concerns me because not enough people with disabilities are getting into the home that they need.”

The City of Edmonton said the fire department offers inspections to meet licencing requirements for a fee.

“These buildings have to get zoning approval, which may lead to permits under the building code and those cover what is needed for fire safety requirements,” the City of Edmonton said in a statement.