Golden Cockroach lowlights Ghetto living

AMS President Ethan Rabidoux announced yesterday the winners of the Golden Cockroach and Key to the Ghetto Awards.
AMS President Ethan Rabidoux announced yesterday the winners of the Golden Cockroach and Key to the Ghetto Awards.

Little did Ghetto landlord Phil Lam know that when he planted a couch on the porch of 288 Earl St., as his tenants allege, he would find himself the recipient of a cockroach in exchange.

But Lam was a no-show for the transaction, which took place yesterday afternoon in the JDUC.

However, more than 250 students filled the Upper and Lower Ceilidhs to hear stories and view photos of alleged property standards violations in the houses he leases, during the first-ever presentation of the Golden Cockroach and Key to the Ghetto awards.

“The Golden Cockroach Award was born of necessity, not desire, due to the deplorable conditions too many students are currently living in,” said AMS President Ethan Rabidoux, who made the presentation with Acting Municipal Affairs Commissioner (MAC) Ryan Quinlan Keech. “The pictures and the stories we will tell you are deplorable—well, in fact, they are funny, screamingly funny until you realize people are living in these conditions.”

Keech, who said he has never had problems with his own landlords, described to the audience some of houses that the MAC, the Student Property Assessment Team and the Golden Cockroach committee inspected to select the winners from the nominations they received.

During his presentation, Keech expressed his concern with the houses and students’ acceptance of the poor state of these houses.

“They are illegal, [but] there’s a culture of normalcy,” he later told the Journal. “People think that living in these kinds of situations is the Queen’s experience.

“The big thing now is breaking through this culture of normalcy and making students aware of their rights.”

When Lam was announced the winner of the Golden Cockroach, Keech listed several of the complaints the committee received from his tenants, especially concerns with 288 Earl St.

Concerns included freezing temperatures, a furnace that has never been upgraded, and an infestation of silverfish.

“When we went in, the thermostat was near 20 [degrees], but the temperature was registering below 15,” he told the audience. “The original 1850s coal furnace [had been] retrofitted to use natural gas.”

Keech said one of the most bizarre complaints made by the residents of 288 Earl St. stemmed from a past exchange between Lam and the residents. The residents alleged that shortly after they had complained to the city about the house’s property standards, a couch was abandoned on their lawn. They claimed they later saw Lam and another person move the couch onto the porch of 288 Earl St. and take pictures of it there. They said they later received the pictures from Lam via e-mail, warning them that the couch’s presence was a violation that could result in a municipal fine for the residents, Keech said.

Keech quoted the tenants of the house, who said they had been told by Lam, “If you want, I can get one my guys to take it [away, but] it will cost you $50.”

Keech said it was the house at 288 Earl St. that was the most concerning, and the reason why Lam was chosen for the award.

“The basement [of] 288 Earl [Street], the amount of mould that had grown throughout the basement,” he said. “There was insulation that was damaged by mould—it was [a] really, really disgusting sight.

“I would never, ever want to do laundry in a basement like that.”

Rabidoux—whom Keech referred to as his “Vanna White”—displayed large photos highlighting the major complaints of the houses.

Landlord Peter Holmes was named runner-up for the Golden Cockroach award because of violations discovered at 149A Collingwood St. and 276 University Ave.

Keech told the Journal that 276 University Ave.’s linen closet-style shower, which is accessible directly from the hallway, didn’t have a closing door or ventilation, and was one of the situations that concerned him most.

“The shower was completely normal to the residents,” he said. “It took [the Golden Cockroach committee] looking at these people with our mouths open in shock to make them realize this isn’t normal.”

Both Lam and Holmes were invited to the event, but neither attended. Lam didn’t respond to the Journal’s telephone calls and Holmes told the Journal he had no comment.

In addition to naming Kingston’s worst landlords, the hour-long press conference included the presentation of the Key to the Ghetto—an award recognizing excellent landlords.

Rabidoux presented the Key to the Ghetto to Jay Abramsky, president and general manager of Keystone Property Management. Abramsky said his company is interested in providing good housing to students.

“We work very diligently to try to develop and accommodate students in accommodations that are welcoming and [ones] they can call home during their time at Queen’s,” he said as he accepted the award. “Our focus as a community is to try and get as many Queen’s students as possible to consider Kingston as your home for the future, after you are done at school, and so it’s important that we start by delivering you decent accommodations.”

The event also included speeches by speeches by Rabidoux, Deputy Mayor of Kingston Bittu George and Acting Dean of Student Affairs Janice Deakin.

George, who spoke on behalf of the city, said he is interested in increasing the property standards, but that obstacles such as zoning bylaws and car-street frontage ratios make this difficult.

Principal Karen Hitchcock, who attended the event with Floyd Patterson, city councillor for the Sydenham Ward in which the Ghetto is situated, said there will be a review of student housing both on and off campus, and a task force on the issue will be struck soon.

“We’ve been working with the AMS and support very much their approach to working with the property standards [officials],” she said.

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