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Mayor recognizes need for cooperation ahead of Housing and Homelessness Committee meeting

Further to earlier reports this summer, Kingstonist has received a number of concerned messages from tenants of multiple residences owned by Kingston Frontenac Housing Corporation (KFHC).  In a candid conversation Mayor Bryan Paterson responded to residents’ concerns that they are being treated without respect by the corporation.

Mayor Bryan Paterson speaks to the assembly on Jul. 22, 2021, upon an announcement by the federal government that the city would receive $7.4 million for rapid housing. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

First, in order to understand better the way the City runs KFHC, Mayor Paterson explained, “It’s a nonprofit corporation arm’s length from the City, in terms of its operations, but City Council is the shareholder. So, every year there is a shareholders meeting, and that would be me and City Council that are present at that meeting. Outside of that, City Council appoints two councillors to sit on the board of KFHC, and those two city councillors are the ones that are most involved in operations management, addressing issues and concerns as they come up.”

The mayor said he knew of the issues Kingstonist reported earlier this summer and, “I know, having spoken to both Bridget Doherty and Gary Oosterhoff, that they’ve certainly been very, very aware of some of the issues that have happened and have been very active in discussions with the rest of the board members on that. So, I’ve had good discussions with them to understand what steps are being taken and what their plans are. But that, essentially, is the way that the structure works.”

KFHC had been very hard to contact with regard to the aforementioned incidents, having submitted multiple questions over the phone and in writing, which had not been answered in over two weeks.

Paterson remarked that he had spoken to KFHC CEO Mary-Lynn Cousins Brame on behalf of Kingstonist, “just a few days ago when I got back from holidays and she said she would be happy to respond to any further media inquiries.”

The mayor suggested that we reach out again to Cousins Brame, noting that “Mary Lynn told me specifically that, yes she would be happy to speak with you, so I don’t know if there was some kind of miscommunication or what, but I can tell you she’s assured me personally that she would be happy to take your questions.”

Mayor Paterson also pointed out, “There are plans for a special Housing and Homelessness Committee meeting next Thursday (September 9), where the CEO will be coming to speak to that committee, to raise issues and to address concerns and complaints, and to talk about what is being done, what should be done, and to explore and discuss solutions.”

When presented with the fact that, on multiple occasions, KFHC had given misleading answers to our inquiries from Kingstonist — and, in some cases, had only acted on issues after multiple complaints by tenants and inquiries from the press — Paterson remained diplomatic.  

“I think in situations like this, the more openness and transparency there can be, the better. I think that this plan to bring all of this out at the Housing and Homelessness Committee meeting it will give a chance for Committee members to ask questions, [and] for members of the public to watch, too, to understand what’s what, what is happening, and what is being done. I mean, that’s a really important discussion to have. I think every issue and complaint that comes forward has to be treated seriously and investigated, and so I think that that’s going to be an important discussion that happens next Thursday, for sure,” Paterson said.

Mayor Paterson was then debriefed on previous Kingstonist articles, as well as investigations that have taken place since Kingstonist last published about KFHC, as follows:

First, in the days following our story about KFHC removing rent money from resident’s accounts a week early, multiple residents complained that they were not promptly contacted about the incident causing them financial hardship.

Secondly, on the day following our report about a faulty water heater causing flooding at the Rideaucrest Tower, residents reported to Kingstonist that they had been approached in an intimidating manner and questioned by their building manager, who reportedly asked one resident in a raised voice, “So are you the one that, that put all the nasty things about me in the newspaper?”

It is important to note that Kingstonist had not used the name of this building manager in coverage of these matters. Another resident said that the same building manager then “came over to me to say hello and we chatted a minute, just about stuff in the building. And then she said the same question to me. I don’t know whether you’ve ever met [the building manager] or not, but she can be very intimidating.  You know, if you need something or you see things that you think should be reported, it sort of makes you think, ‘Oh, should I say anything, or shouldn’t I?’”

A slick of “fluid” on a floor at 300 Conacher Drive. Photo Submitted.

A young mother who lives on Concacher Drive spoke to Kingstonist on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, on the condition of anonymity. She described her building as “terrifying” to live in.

“When I first moved in, I had to get my heater replaced because it was covered in black mould. I called in [to KFHC] and spoke to somebody and told them that my baby was just learning how to crawl and that my spouse is highly allergic to mould. And they said, ‘you can’t be allergic to mould,’” the resident relayed.

After much arguing, the resident says KFHC acquiesced, “And the guy came in scraped the mould off the wall and then painted over it,” much to her chagrin.

“Oh my goodness,” she recounted, “I’ve lived there for five years, I’ve had nothing but problems with drug paraphernalia left in the hallways of the staircases. There’s bedbugs in that building every week, there’s cockroaches everywhere. Mind you, I’ve never had them because , as soon as I find out that somebody in the building has them, I call [KFHC] and freak out, and they come in and spray my apartment. I can’t even take my children out to the park out back because there is [drug] paraphernalia all over the park.”

She also described and sent pictures of broken locks on doors to the outside, allowing anyone to enter the building. Further, she had witnessed human excrement and other bodily excretions in the stairwells and hallways, as well as drug use and drug paraphernalia. She also reported that at least one sexual assault had happened in the elevator.

“There’s human waste and crap and there are cockroaches galore. My concern is my children’s health and safety. The building is infested with cockroaches, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s so bad that even during the day they’re coming out and crawling down the hallway,” she said.

In another instance in August, a group of 18 residents at 205 Bagot Street approached Kingstonist with multiple concerns. This group expressed concerns about the safety of a resident in their building.  

According to the group’s spokesperson, Rose Moore, this resident has violent outbursts, screaming and crying at night in their apartment. They attacked an elderly resident’s autistic grandchild and threatened to harm multiple other residents, some of whom are elderly, as well.  Also, the group is concerned that the resident has lost a potentially dangerous amount of weight.  

“That screaming and hollering; I’m so scared she’s gonna get hurt. She’s obviously got an addiction problem, and mental health problems, and people in the building can’t sleep for days in a row because she gets yelling,” said Moore, expressing concern both for the resident in question and the other residents who live through these outbursts.

Moore described how, as a group, the residents approached Addiction and Mental Health Services — KFLA and KFHC to seek help for their neighbour in distress.

“I’m a strong believer that just kicking people literally makes the homeless rate higher. So, I don’t believe in kicking people out rather than finding a solution whereby they to will have mental health help.  And I understand they need stability for health.

“So we’re trying to set up a meeting between Housing, Mental Health, and the police department,” explained Moore, inviting Kingstonist to attend.

Unfortunately, two weeks later, on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, while they had an agreement from Mental Health and Addiction Services and Kingston Police, they had had no cooperation from KFHC, Moore explained.

“Mental Health was willing to help and they wanted to meet with us,” she said, noting that when she spoke with the same aforementioned building manager with KFHC, “She just said, ‘Well, I gotta think of COVID and all that.’ And I said ‘Oh, well we can all wear masks or meet outside, it is summer.’ And she’s just saying, ‘Oh, well, write me letters and keep a track of how often that tenant is yelling and screaming and stuff like that.’

“Mental health and housing aren’t working together,” said Moore, “We have all these agencies, but nobody’s working together. It’s working against each other, and tenants that pay for it.”

Two types of flooring that residents say is indicative of the way two castes of tenants are treated at the KFHC building at 205 Bagot Street. Photos by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Another resident, Melinda Willson, approached a Housing Support Worker on KFHC staff and presented their concerns, along with a list of signatures from the group members.

“She laughed in my face and said, ‘what if someone starts a petition about you?’” Wilson recalled.

As frustrating as that issue has become, on behalf of the group, Rose Moore also expressed her continued lack of faith that KFHC has their tenant’s best interest at heart.

“For example, every time we turn around, someone has bed bugs or cockroaches in our building. And they’re now beginning to charge people $50 if you don’t have your apartment ready for when they come to spray. And some people just aren’t physically or mentally able to do it,” she said of dealing with KFHC.

The group also claims to see a difference in the way KFHC treats tenants who pay market rent versus rent adjusted to income. “If you come in and you look at the apartments in our building, anyone that’s got market rent has really nice new floors. Now that doesn’t really sound like much, but I have four different kinds of tiles in my one-bedroom apartment. My bathroom tile is all cracked and cuts my feet sometimes. I have asked them to fix it but they won’t fix it because they’re only doing new floors for people that pay market rent,” said Moore.

Kingstonist did go to 205 Bagot Street on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, spoke to members of the group, and observed how the rooms in the building do have markedly different flooring, with tar or glue seeping up between the tiles in some apartments, while fresh laminate floor was laid in apartments belonging to market rent members of the group.  

As well, one of the apartments, occupied by a non-smoker, stank of cigarette smoke that was coming in through the ventilation system. A senior citizen on the floor of the neighbour who has been causing disturbances described severe anxiety that she was going to be hurt by her neighbour.

KIngstonist has received multiple additional letters detailing similar concerns from citizens who live in Kingston Frontenac Housing Corporation housing across the City.

Residents laughed ironically when pointing out this sign KFHC had tacked to a bulletin board at 205 Bagot Street. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

For his part, Mayor Paterson agreed with the residents that there needs to be a better confluence of services.

“I definitely have to say that, I think, more collaboration and working together is absolutely essential. You know, let’s face it, we have organizations that are maybe experts in building housing and running housing. But then we have other agencies that, you know, can bring those other skills to the table for those that might be struggling with mental health issues or having other challenges. The more we work together, the better things are going to work, so I’m a big proponent of that for sure.”

When asked about the idea of better sensitivity training for KFHC staff, who deal with vulnerable populations, Paterson responded, “I think, again, that that’s why it’s important to bring issues out into the open and to have that discussion. The discussion next Thursday will be an important step to identify what those issues are, but also to look for solutions.” 

“Let’s talk about what’s being done now, what’s working and what isn’t working,” he continued. “But ultimately, let’s talk about how do we work together, how do we find those improvements. And, what I can say, is that at a City level, we know a lot of people are struggling in our community right now and, honestly, we have to pull together and work together and be creative and innovative in our solutions. So, I think that that’s the key. I know that that commitment is there at a community level, and for myself and the council.”

KIngstonist reached out to CEO of KFHC Mary Lynn Cousins for comment. After a number of delays, she was finally reached for an interview on Wednesday, Sep.8. Her response to Kingstonist will be featured in a soon-to-be-published article.

The Housing and Homelessness Committee of the City of Kingston will meet Thursday, Sep. 9 at 1 p.m.. Questions and comments can be submitted, by following these instructions here prior to the meeting. Residents will also find a way to participate via Zoom and how to watch live on the City of Kingston’s Youtube channel through this link.

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