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The Suburbanite
  • Housing dispute snares group of local veterans

  • Just a place to call home for the time being is what Kevin Colston and several other military veterans wanted. But the six veterans also found themselves living in tough conditions, which included times when their utilities or heat were shut off. And this was happening while the tenants were making rent payments.

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  • Just a place to call home for the time being is what Kevin Colston and several other military veterans wanted.
    A place to live is what they found at the 10-unit, two-story complex in the 1700 block of Ira Turpin Way NE.
    But the six veterans also found themselves living in tough conditions, which included times when their utilities or heat were shut off.
    And this was happening while the tenants were making rent payments.
    “We had no hot showers for a couple days,” Colston said. “We sat in the dark for days.”
    Canton Water Department sent out a disconnection notice in late June. The past due amount listed on the notice was $342.
    What made the situation so perplexing, according to Colston, is that rent payments were being made.  
    “The (Stark County) Veterans Service Commission was making our rent payments for us,” said Colston, an Air Force veteran. “They were giving us rent vouchers.”
    HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
    As it turns out, the rental payments did not make their way to the landlord, RKL Properties, leaving the veterans in limbo.
    The problem was the agency managing the residential complex, Otis Gibbs Helping Hand Center, was not forwarding the payments to RKL Properties, according to attorney John Giua, who represents Lisa Sims, one of the RKL Properties partners.
    Otis Gibbs Helping Hand and Center is operated by Odette Martin.
    “I don’t think Lisa knew the veterans were getting vouchers,” Giua said. “Odette Martin was Lisa’s tenant. Lisa has to look to Odette to make the rent payments.”
    Another building tenant, Jesse Pierson, expressed similar frustration as Colston.
    “We are doing what we are supposed to do,” Pierson, an Army veteran, said. “We are doing our part, but you aren’t doing your part. We feel we are being used.”
    Matters had gotten to the point where the building owner, RKL Properties, went to Canton Municipal Court to evict Otis Gibbs Helping Hand and Center from its role as building manager.
    Under the lease agreement, Otis Gibbs Helping Hand Center was to pay $3,000 a month for the residential space and another $500 a month for use of  an office in the building.
    The housing vouchers issued to veterans living in the building were expected to cover the lease expenses.
    “There is no question she was receiving these vouchers for their (tenants) rent,” Giua said. “For whatever reason she elected to use the rent (payments) for other parts of her business. We expected her to pay something toward her rent. There was never any payment made.”
    Sims declined to be interviewed for this article.
    However, her attorney Giua explained that Sims realized the veteran tenants were on the verge of eviction through no fault of their own.
    Page 2 of 2 - “She certainly did not want to put them out on the street,” Giua said.
    Consequently, Sims, stepped in worked out a deal with the county Veterans Service Commission to allow the veterans to remain in the building.
    Otherwise, the tenants were expected to move out when Otis Gibbs Helping Hand Center left.
    A letter to the tenants from Odette Martin states that as of June 8 the Otis Gibbs Helping Hand Center will no longer be connected to the apartment complex.
    “We have talked to the property owner and talked to the property manager,” said David Kogel, assistant director of the county Veterans Service Commission. “We then started issuing the vouchers instead of to the property manager, but rather to the property owner.”
    OPERATOR RESPONDS
    Martin, in her defense, said she did pay $15,000 to RKL Properties, an amount RKL confirms it received.
    Martin maintains the voucher payments were not sufficient to meet her contractual obligations.
    “What they gave me a month didn’t even cover a quarter of what it cost to live there,” Martin said. “What I am getting from there barely covers the utilities. I gave them very good service. If they didn’t have any money, that was a criteria. You just come on in.”
    In response to the eviction filing, Martin voluntarily moved her operations and furniture out of the complex.
    The veterans remain as tenants for the time being. And the utilities have been restored.
    “When this kind of thing happens, this not only disrespects us,” Colston said. “It disrespects the taxpayers’ dollars. ... We paid. And we were pretty much laid out for slaughter.”