Riverhead Towers residents at odds over chairs

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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Riverhead Towers residents say a city decision to remove chairs from its lobby is about petty politics, not safety.

Riverhead Towers in St. John’s. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Tenants at the Hamilton Avenue apartment complex have enlisted Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Galgay in their fight, which started about a month ago after storm-related blackouts in January.

Until then, said a resident who asked her name not be used, there were chairs as well as a security desk in the lobby in the city-owned building. But following a complaint from a fellow tenant, the city has removed the security desk and have instructed staff to remove any chairs placed by residents in the lobby.

A memo from Judy Tobin, senior housing officer in the city’s Community Services Department, said the city is creating and enforcing a “barrier free lobby space.”

“Tenants are welcome to use the sitting area next to the lobby while waiting for company and/or rides,” reads the memo, dated Jan. 22.

“This area has large windows that look directly onto the parking lot. This area may also be used for socialization. Furniture in this area is to remain where it is and not moved under any circumstances. Security staff has been advised to enforce the barrier free lobby area.”

Tobin did not return a message left requesting comment. A spokeswoman for the City of St. John’s said city policy is for councillors to handle media interviews.

The sitting area is divided from the rest of the lobby by a wall, meaning tenants who need to rest after entering or who are leaving after a ride arrives have to walk up and down the length of the lobby — a problem for many of the building’s tenants who have mobility or respiratory problems, or who find the sitting area too confining, said the tenant.

During the power outage, she said, tenants gathered in the lobby, but the sitting area didn’t have enough space so more chairs were moved into the lobby. City staff have been removing the chairs and placing them back into the lobby, she said.

“Most of us here are 60-plus,” said the tenant. “There’s several people here who are handicapped. There’s five or six more who’ve got heart problems. Circulation problems. They can’t come in through that door with their groceries and try to walk around there and get a cart and go back out and put the groceries in the cart and keep going to the elevator without sitting down. They cannot do it.”

But not all of the building’s tenants want the chairs there. The city began enforcing a barrier-free space after one of the tenants complained.

“In the 30 years that this building has been on the go, there has never been a problem,” she said, attributing the complaints to handful of residents who want to impose strict rules on everyone in the building.

“The people that are complaining are people who want to rule the roost, as far as we’re concerned. They say they’re intimidated when they come in because there’s people there sitting down, talking and laughing. How come they’re not intimidated when they’re in the Avalon Mall?”

Another tenant, who also asked not to be named, said there are a few residents he considers bullies.

“These bullies are complaining every bloody day, and sometimes two or three times a day,” he said. “They definitely want control.”

Residents who want the chairs to stay — and who took issue with what they consider the heavy-handed tone of the memo from Tobin — have signed a petition and raised the issue with Galgay at a meeting Monday.

Galgay said he’d look into it, and told residents at the meeting that they could put chairs in the lobby in the interim. City staff removed those chairs the next day.

Galgay said he supports the residents who want to keep chairs in the lobby.

“We need to work to come to some type of compromise and a balance to ensure that those residents, especially those that have various types of needs and disabilities, have access to either a bench or a chair so that they can wait for a bus or other forms of transportation,” he said.

He said city staff have been too strict with residents.

“The city did issue a notice to residents saying they were going to strictly enforce this, they were going to remove the chairs and make it a barrier-free hallway, when in fact there’s actually a Pepsi machine that’s in the same area as where the residents have been advised that it’s to be kept barrier-free.”

He says he’ll be raising the issue at city council’s Monday meeting, adding he’s already received “pushback” from city staff.

“They questioned my interference, as I guess you could say on the matter,” he said. “I was completely disappointed with that, as an elected official.”

Everyone with the city has a responsibility to run things properly and fairly, he said.

“From time to time, if there’s a need to interfere with some decisions that staff make, especially in this circumstance, where it affects the most vulnerable in society, those with disabilities and seniors, I’ll certainly do it again if I have to.”

Coun. Bernard Davis, chairman of the community services committee, which oversees city housing, said the lobby needs to be kept clear to prevent anyone from being impeded from entering or leaving, especially during an emergency.

“It’s not a very big lobby,” he said, adding that it has been a problem of more than just a couple of people sitting in chairs, but in fact a lobby full of chairs.

“We can’t have a congregation of people in the foyer — it’s difficult to get people in and out of the building. … We’ve heard the concerns of the residents there, and we’re working through a lot of them as we speak.”

Davis said the city is working on removing the Pepsi machine from the lobby as well.

Davis called back later to say staff will allow residents a single chair in the sitting area while a more permanent solution can be worked out. Residents have suggested removing a portion of the partition that separates the lobby from the sitting area.

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Community Services Department, Pepsi

Geographic location: Hamilton Avenue

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Recent comments

  • deb
    February 07, 2014 - 01:41

    I have recently moved to River Head Towers . At first I thought this was a very nice place to live , needless to say that did not last long . I found that "certain tennants" wanted to run the apartment building there way and they had certain people at city hall on their side . the sheer intimidation of these mindless people to the elderly living in this building is disgraceful . The lovely letter from the city to tell everyone what they can and cant do is intimidating to these people . Several of the tennants have medical issues which hinder them in their ability to sit, stand and even breath . Clearly the city has forgotten about the people with these issues and is just trying to force the beliefs of a selected few on all the tennents living at RIVERHEAD TOWERS. This is unexceptable to over 50% of the people in the building . All the city wants to do is take away and not give any respect to these wonderful people . We are people , please do not forget this . We pay our rent every month , and all we are asking for is fairness and respect . thank you !

    • charles
      February 07, 2014 - 21:51

      time to grow up --- put on your hats this is romper room,,,we seem to act like children...well city should treat you the same..

  • deb
    February 07, 2014 - 01:40

    I have recently moved to River Head Towers . At first I thought this was a very nice place to live , needless to say that did not last long . I found that "certain tennants" wanted to run the apartment building there way and they had certain people at city hall on their side . the sheer intimidation of these mindless people to the elderly living in this building is disgraceful . The lovely letter from the city to tell everyone what they can and cant do is intimidating to these people . Several of the tennants have medical issues which hinder them in their ability to sit, stand and even breath . Clearly the city has forgotten about the people with these issues and is just trying to force the beliefs of a selected few on all the tennents living at RIVERHEAD TOWERS. This is unexceptable to over 50% of the people in the building . All the city wants to do is take away and not give any respect to these wonderful people . We are people , please do not forget this . We pay our rent every month , and all we are asking for is fairness and respect . thank you !

  • Wildcovefalls
    February 06, 2014 - 16:03

    I am a resident of Riverhead Towers, and I take great exception to the comments made by "Thomas". First of all, the smokers all go near the garbage shed. And, there is only a mere handful of smokers in the building, as the building was made smoke free a number of years ago, by City Council, after a petition was signed by the majority of tenants, and no thanks to the NPH Department. Secondly, isn't it strange that all the fuss only started with a handful of tenants, who hasn't stopped complaining since they entered the building. So, they feel intimidated by a few people when they are coming or going to the building. If a handful of tenants don't like where they are living, they have a choice, leave or stay, and keep quiet. It is that simple. Why should all the other tenants have to feel that they are intimidated by a two-three tenants, and some tenants have been verbally and physically threatened. I also take exception to some tenants referred to as hens, as Thomas said. That is a sexist remark to the lowest ebb possible. It is the lowest of the lowest remark. I cannot thank our Ward 2 Councillor, Jonathan Galgay enough, for taking a firm stand against what the NPH department won't do, and treat their tenants as they should be treated. Isn't it also extremely strange that the NPH Department is saying that the entrance has to be unobstructed at all times, when the building is over 30 years old, and NOT once has anyone had any problem coming or going to the building, even emergency personnel....from the Fire Department or Ambulance Department. How come all of a sudden it is an issue? Am I missing something? I know these issues will all be resolved by Council in the not to distant future, for the good, and majority of tenants. We must remember this: The Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and Councillors are in charge of the City, NOT a particular department.

    • Comrade
      February 07, 2014 - 19:53

      "Secondly, isn't it strange that all the fuss only started with a handful of tenants, who hasn't stopped complaining since they entered the building." Probably the same kind of people to complain about the state of the bathrooms at the Village.

  • Bullied
    February 06, 2014 - 16:02

    Seniors can be BULLIES! In these types of buildings they sit in the lobby or at the door snickering at people passing by or spread bad gossip. This is no difference than teens being laughed at in the school hallway or slandered online. Where a teen gets it at school, a senior in a building like this gets it at home. I have heard this from my family in these buidlings, and I have been on the receiving end of it as I come and go for visits. I also see cliques forming and controling the different rec rooms in these buildings as gangs control neighbourhoods. Add some comfort and protection for the victims of these bullies and take the perches away from the doors and elevators in all buildings.

    • Bernadette
      February 07, 2014 - 12:13

      Me thinks Bullied, Comrade and Thomas are one and the same Person? I have been going in and out of Riverhead Towers for 25 years and have never felt bullied or intimidated by the tenants in the front entrance. The "victims" as you say are the real bullies. Again give them the boot before they physically harm someone and then this will become a crime scene. Maybe if you had had the guts to actually come into the room when Jonathan Galgay came to the meeting things might have been settled.

  • Josephine Roche-Quinlan
    February 06, 2014 - 14:25

    I would like to inform "Ratter" that most residents at Riverhead Towers are well able to maintain their apartments. One or two residents pay someone to come in and do their cleaning when they feel too ill to do so themselves. No one here is a candidate for assisted living yet. Thomas , from your comment I get the feeling you like to brag.....Tiffany Gardens and Florida. Here is a tip for you...We at Riverhead Towers couldn't care less where you live or where you go on holiday. Most of us have been there too. For your information NO PERSON at this complex smokes anywhere near the entrance. I would also like to inform you and anyone else who thinks otherwise that there never has been a problem for anyone , including Ambulance personnel, Firemen to gain entrance to this building. This is a wonderful place to live regardless of some disgruntled people who enjoy causing trouble.

    • Comrade
      February 07, 2014 - 19:51

      "Me thinks Bullied, Comrade and Thomas are one and the same Person? " Wrong yet again Bernadette. And as for having guts - address that to those who post petitions without naming themselves. Signing as "LOL" was a rather gutless move.

  • RATTER 01
    February 06, 2014 - 10:37

    I feel sorry for those darlings at Riverhead Towers who have trouble getting around and require chairs etc for assistance. Maybe it's time for them to more into an assisted living building as it appears that maintaining their own apartment is no longer feasible.

    • Bernadette
      February 06, 2014 - 13:33

      The reason that most of these people live in an "Apartment" was to make life easier. Riverhead towers is equipped with 2 Elevators to allow tenants to come and go as they please. They should not be discriminated against because they have trouble getting arount or require a chair to sit on. Maybe Judy Tobin should meet with the tenants to discuss the issues instead of brushing them aside . The comment that there are tenants smoking directly outside is unfounded as they have been required to smoke 50 feet away for quite some time. What wasn't mentioned in the article is that tenants have been told that they cannot sit on the front of the building in good whether (although there are city provided benches). Again, maybe the tenants that are doing the complaining should move out as their views do not represent the majority of the tenants. Cheers to Jonathan Galgay for taking a stand!!

    • Comrade
      February 06, 2014 - 19:27

      Bernadette be honest now. The benches are provided but not in the very walkway up to the front doors. During good weather (note spelling) that area is filled with certain tenants sitting on lawn chairs they brought out into the area themselves. So what now for all the poor folks, who have disability issues, having to weave their way through these selfish souls?

  • Jim O'Flahety
    February 06, 2014 - 09:34

    Thomas, you are making a mountain out of a molehill. My father who has multiple health problems, lives in Riverhead Towers. At no time has the entrance to the apartment been blocked. People who have knee, joint, lungs and heart problems sit down in a chair by the door to catch their breath. Are you jealous that you are not a part of their group? Maybe if you are a little more polite, people may start liking you.

    • Thomas
      February 06, 2014 - 10:23

      Actually Jim between Tiffany Gardens and Florida I have all the friends I need right now. I do however visit a dear friend at Riverhead on times and the issues I presented are fact. Unless you live outside the building in a tent it is silly for you to even say these things don't occur. If it was limited to people catching their breath while coming to and fro I doubt there would be any issue.

  • Thomas
    February 06, 2014 - 08:17

    Listen folks - It's not just the chairs. It's also on the front step. An entrance should not be a place to gather and hang out and have a hen party. With all the smoking that goes on outside you are running a gauntlet similar to a gas chamber.

    • Comrade
      February 06, 2014 - 19:33

      "An entrance should not be a place to gather and hang out and have a hen party." Well said Thomas. The 12 -15 'regulars' who sit there force you to weave your way through them. When I visit its like running a gauntlet of busy-bodies who want to know other people's business.

    • Comrade
      February 06, 2014 - 19:33

      "An entrance should not be a place to gather and hang out and have a hen party." Well said Thomas. The 12 -15 'regulars' who sit there force you to weave your way through them. When I visit its like running a gauntlet of busy-bodies who want to know other people's business.

    • Wildcovefalls
      February 07, 2014 - 10:33

      Thomas, you sound like one of the three tenants that we have here that are "intimidated' by other tenants that are present when you enter the building. Are you intimidated by people looking at you when you go to the shopping mall, like a couple of the tenants here, that are there on a daily basis? I say, get a life, man, and act like a man, and NOT a bully. Also, you refer to the group as having a HEN party. This is a very sexist remark. Isn't is so very easy to criticize when the shoe is NOT on the other foot?

    • Wildcovefalls
      February 07, 2014 - 10:41

      Thomas, you sound like one of the three tenants that we have here that are "intimidated' by other tenants that are present when you enter the building. Are you intimidated by people looking at you when you go to the shopping mall, like a couple of the tenants here, that are there on a daily basis? I say, get a life, man, and act like a man, and NOT a bully. Also, you refer to the group as having a HEN party. This is a very sexist remark. Isn't is so very easy to criticize when the shoe is NOT on the other foot?

  • Jack
    February 06, 2014 - 05:45

    Maybe if people in power or in charge like Judy Tobin made smart decisions and communicated them in a good tone, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians wouldn't be complaining in the first place. As for those in power, stop punishing the masses due to one measly complaint. If you receive multiple complaints, then management can take action. At the end of the day, as a person with a disability, while I want to see apartment buildings and seniors facilities barrier free, you don't go too far and use Kathy Dunderdale style leadership like Judy Tobin is doing now. Bring in the chairs, and from now on, don't punish the masses due to one measly complaint as it gives St. John's a bad name.

    • Bernadette
      February 06, 2014 - 09:48

      It's not really about the chairs is it? It's about a couple of unelected tenants feeling they have the right to make the rules. The front entrance is a gathering place. Face the facts. Whether the chairs are still there or not. In other apartment buildings in the city there is a common area. The area is large enough to accomodae couches, plants etc. It should be made to look welcoming . Tenants should not be intimidated by two particular tenants that verbally and physically threaten them in the front entrance, halls and elevators. Again the city needs to step up. The two tenants who are infringing on the peaceful living of the rest of the building should be evicted. I'll bet once this happens all peace would be restored!

    • Comrade
      February 06, 2014 - 19:20

      We both know it was not "one measly complaint" however often you say it. And this decision is just an enforcement of the regulations that are in your lease and you signed onto.