Opinion: Expectations regarding housing and health complaints

Megan Hornyak

Student housing leaves much to be desired. What does the university plan to do about it?

Student housing around Kent is a crisis, especially for international students.

By the time I realized I was going to Kent, it was late May and I needed to quickly find an apartment. I had one day to find a place and sign my lease or I would be living out of my car. I did not know anyone from the area or how I could find a roommate.

I chose College Towers because it was close to campus and had a room ready for me that day. The paperwork was signed, and I thought I was the luckiest person on earth, but I soon found out I was wrong.

In my experience at College Towers, I’ve filed a health department complaint about a leaking roof due to thawing ice in the spring and concerns with my electrical outlet.

My experiences in that apartment were not good, but it all comes down to my expectations of my living situation as a resident and the proper sharing of information.

On Oct. 10, the Record-Courier released a story about College Towers having a bed bug infestation. Documented reports of bedbugs at College Towers have been investigated and proven to be true with Kent Health Department records as recent as June 29 of this year. A report was filed and confirmed in a series of visits to the apartment that occurred until Aug. 17.

However, I spoke with Alex Patterson, management representative of the team that owns College Towers, who said, “In a nutshell, there (are) 460 apartments in College Towers (and) there is less than a five percent infestation rate at College Towers. It’s actually four percent if you want to be completely accurate. That’s better than most hotels in the area, or hospitals, or dorm rooms in the area … I think that College Towers is being pinpointed for something that is really not a problem here.”

She also said in the particular incident reported in the Record-Courier, the tenant had grabbed used furniture from a dumpster, placing their apartment at risk, and added that the issue was taken care of within 24 hours after the report came in.

Patterson said College Towers passed a recent health inspection a couple of weeks ago and “it was the best health inspection that College Towers has had in years.”

Beyond bed bugs, other filed and validated health complaint reports of College Towers include problems with mold and heating units. In one instance, last February, Student Legal Services got directly involved. Another complaint was filed last year on Nov. 18, as a mother was concerned about the welfare of her children with the lack of heating in the complex.

Patterson said that College Towers is an old building and, upon taking a tour of the building, one can see the model is reflective of the apartments and there is nothing to hide.

College Towers is not the only local apartment complex with a run-in with a health department official. Between the start of 2014 and now, many other licensed establishments have had their fair share of problems, albeit not all were later verified.

Celeron Suites had two reports along with Province, and White Hall Terrace had a total of three filed complaints. Silver Meadows, now called the Villages at Franklin Crossing, had a total of six health complaints. College Towers totaled 10 unverified and some verified complaints that, for the most part, occurred within this year.

“The number of complaints is relative to the size of a property,” Kathryn Good, the property manager of Villages at Franklin Crossing, said. “If somebody only owns 12 apartments and nine of them have health complaints you have a problem different than if somebody has 400 apartments and (they have) four complaints. It’s just different.”

Although there’s admittedly some downside to viewing health department complaints because they could be preparing for renovations, as Good said about Villages at Franklin Crossing, shouldn’t students be encouraged to view the facts and make up their own mind?

Every year, apartment complexes go through an inspection with the Kent Health Department and every year they collect health department complaints.

According to the Kent Health Department official Kyle Kelly, the inspection results can be found online at http://www.kentpublichealth.org. However, personal health department complaints can only be accessed through the health department at their local office and by public records request.

This is problematic because the complaints that are filed can truly tell the story of what it is like to live at a complex from the resident’s perspective.

This becomes important because it’s tough to find housing in Kent, especially to those people who are coming from out of state or from another country. 

“People that are familiar with the area lease far in advance so that they get the community that they really prefer,” said Burdette Baker, a manager at the traditional housing complex Kent Village, just outside of Kent in Franklin Township. “People who are coming here (with) late acceptances, transfers from other schools, late grad student acceptance … they have to go with what’s available and typically what’s available is the least preferred communities in the area.”

These health complaint records are not made available for students who are new to the area because they are not online. Unintentionally not publicizing these records can protect the complexes from ever needing to change or feel pressured to have better housing conditions except through legal measures.

The good news is the university plans on doing something about the lack of student housing in the area of Kent, which may indirectly increase competition of housing in the area and create better housing choices for residents.

“We’re 100 percent saturated on campus, 100 percent saturated in the city of Kent, so for us to continue to grow we have to come up with those housing options that I’m hoping to see in a partnership with the city,” said president of Kent State Beverly Warren in an interview earlier this month.

Not only do we need the university’s support, but we need apartment complexes to care more about who lives in their buildings. I left College Towers and will never go back for personal reasons.

I really wish I was encouraged to see what residents were complaining about and knew I needed a public records request before signing my lease.

When customers leave, they take their experience at those establishments and share them with friends, coworkers and family members. 

Maybe we should start listening to what residents are actually saying and feeling about the places they live and make them available to other residents. The public has the right to more information, not less. 

If you would like to make a Health Department complaint you may do so in person at their office in the Schwartz Center on Kent Campus in Room 207 or go to http://www.kentpublichealth.org/complaints/index.php to file a complaint online.

Megan Hornyak a administration reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].