In an interview, Mary Lynn Cousins Brame, CEO of Kingston Frontenac Housing Corporation addressed the status of some of the major issues that KFHC tenants have been raising throughout the summer.
First, on Jul. 29, 2021, Kingstonist reported that tenants had had a full month’s worth of rent taken out of their accounts a week early without consent.
Cousins Brame stated that this issue has now been fully resolved. “The tenants received their money back plus any kind of NSF-cheque fee, any kind of banking fees, so we also paid those all back. And it’s all been rectified. That’s it. It was unfortunate that it happened. And it’s just one of those things. As we know, electronic banking, these kinds of things happen. We apologize. It’s been rectified.”
“It was a banking error,” she continued. “But we have a contract with the bank. So we’re ultimately responsible. We should be the ones apologizing and not the bank.”
She also responded to the concern that residents affected by this banking error were not notified immediately by phone that the error had occurred.
“They [KFHC finance department] were dealing with it as it occurred. And we were dealing with it in the middle of the night because one tenant had contacted us. So we were dealing with the tenants calling in at the same time,” explained Cousins Brame.
When asked if KFHC has a robocall system in place to reach tenants in emergency situations, Cousins Brame replied that they do not. “We have a very, very limited budget,” she stressed. “The other thing that you need to remember is we have many, many of our tenants who do not even have a cell phone, they do not have a computer, they don’t have internet. So they have no way of communicating. We had pulled the list and we started calling people at the same time people were calling in. But yes, our tenants… do not have the resources to have that kind of technology.”
Cousins Brame then addressed the issue of the water heater that flooded the 7th floor of Rideaucrest over the August civic holiday weekend.
She said, “When the water emergency happened on Saturday, July 31, that same day, we had a contractor and staff were there for the entire day. It was dealt with on that day. And the building monitor worked on cleaning the water up on the floors, and all of that. Fans were put in to dry it.”
She added that the tenant directly below the flooding who experienced damages was informed that the water would have to be completely dried out before repairs could be undertaken.
Cousins Brame stated that the flood itself was exacerbated by tampering with failsafe measures. “The person that had the leaky water tank, there is a failsafe in the floor that would drain if something was to happen… but this tenant had filled it with dryer sheets. So the failsafe that’s built in to prevent this actually didn’t work. I have a picture. It’s a 12 by 12 hole in the ceiling, that’s all it was. And it had to be dried out because we don’t want any mould to occur. Carpets have been cleaned. And so that issue has been resolved. And the tenants have been happy with the outcome. And they had hot water that day.”
At the time of the incident at Rideaucrest Towers, multiple tenants claimed that no professional maintenance had occurred. Tenants report that a resident had vacuumed the water with a shop-vac and put his own personal tower fan in the hallway, but assert that no outside measures were taken to resolve the issue.
Kingstonist visited the site on Aug. 3, and witnessed the wet floor; there was no dehumidifier on either the seventh or sixth floor and only one non-industrial house fan was on the seventh floor. Tenants stated that contractors and maintenance workers did not arrive until Aug. 5.
Cousins Brame responded that tenants who are not directly affected by maintenance may not always be aware that contractors and staff are at work in areas of the building that they are not witnessing directly. “…[O]ften tenants in the building, who are not sometimes immediately impacted, it causes them some excitement, and they’re not always the best one that has the information.”
When asked if staff being “on-site” referred to the floor monitor (who receives $14/week from KFHC in exchange for one hour’s work), whose husband used his shop-vac to remove water, Cousins Brame noted that there were other individuals there as well. “It wasn’t just our building monitor,” Cousins Brame said. “Maintenance staff were in there. And there was also a plumbing contractor.”
Cousins Brame did not provide a response to the issue that tenants noted about being discouraged from reporting maintenance issues deemed “unnecessary”, and being told that this could incur a $200 charge to the complainant.
She continued, “We are a landlord and all landlords have these situations, but it just seems that for KFHC, we are being held to extreme expectations that other landlords aren’t, and we dealt with this immediately. Staff were called on-site, our maintenance staff. It was a bigger issue. Then we brought in that same day, a plumbing contractor. It was replaced, water was cleaned up, at that time. When you were there, there possibly was the fan, but a dehumidifier had been put in place. So it was all rectified.”
Cousins Brame acknowledged that there is a valid need for KFHC, as a not-for-profit business with a mission to serve a vulnerable population, to be held to a higher account than other for-profit landlords. “We’re dealing with a very vulnerable population. That’s very true. And we have support for that and different systems put in place.”
“And,” she continued, “they receive the same, our RTI [Rent Geared To Income], our affordable, and our market renters, so all of our tenants have the same maintenance. All of our new developments are mixed-income. So our RTI, affordable, and market all are the same. And they all received the same maintenance and property management services.”
However, tenants from another KFHC building at 205 Bagot Street have reported that they believe that RTI, affordable, and market tenants are not treated equally, but that market tenants get preferential treatment. They believe that market apartments are in fact nicer than RTI apartments, especially the floors.
Cousins Brame responded to this by noting that floors get redone when one tenant moves out and another moves in. When asked how long-term tenants with no intention of moving would be able to benefit from upgrades and renovations, she noted that “what [KFHC has] done recently is redo all of their kitchens”.
The tenants also report that they have reached out to KFHC to coordinate a meeting between Mental Health Services, Kingston Police, and KFHC, but note that while the other two groups have agreed and are willing to join them, KFHC has been continually putting off the request.
“One of the things that I think you have to understand, we’re not a social service,” Cousins Brame replied. “KFHC works in partnership with other organizations and agencies to advocate for services for our tenants. We have set meetings with mental health organizations, child welfare, housing support programs and with the Fire Department and Police. KFHC also sits on numerous community committees to collaborate not only to deal with tenant issues but to assist in addressing community needs. KFHC welcomes all involvement with other organizations.”
She also pointed out that KFHC has a pilot program underway with a housing support worker on their roster, “to help tenants who are having difficulty meeting the obligations of their lease.”
Also discussed was the plight of some buildings that have broken locks, windows, doors, insect infestations, and other issues. “It’s a never-ending cycle of fixing and repairing,” said Cousins Brame.
The Housing and Homelessness Committee of the City of Kingston met Thursday, Sep. 9 at 1 p.m.; watch the meeting on the City of Kingston’s Youtube channel through this link.
Kingstonist will provide more details about that meeting as they become available.