This one is going to break your heart, and piss you off. The Rocky Mountain News reported Friday on a Denver infestation in a 197-unit building called Halcyon House that houses disabled and elderly people in affordable units. Nasty, badly kept, bed bug-infested affordable units (oh, and did I mention the plumbing was broken too?)
Elderly, disabled fight filth, bedbugs
Court case drags on as residents cope with filthy building
By Ivan Moreno, Rocky Mountain News
June 15, 2007
“This is never going to end,” Kevin Grimsinger said as he exited a Denver courtroom in his wheelchair Thursday.
The 39-year-old, who lost his legs to a land mine while serving in the U.S. Army in Kosovo, and his fellow residents at a downtown affordable housing building have wrangled with corporations as their rooms became infested with bedbugs and trash collection was interrupted because contractors weren’t paid.
For almost a year, the elderly and disabled residents of Halcyon House have been left wondering who is responsible – Urban Inc., the Greenwood Village management company, or American Housing Preservation Corp., the Maine-based company that owns the building at 1955 Arapahoe St.
They were hoping for some answers Thursday when the manager of Urban Inc. appeared in court after being cited by the city for lack of pest control. But the case was continued until June 28, so an attorney representing the building’s owner can be present.
“It’s just like a continuous running circle,” said Grimsinger as he maneuvered his wheelchair down a narrow hallway of Denver Environmental Court.
In the meantime, the Denver Department of Environmental Health may issue additional citations to Halcyon House’s owners for unsanitary conditions, said Bob McDonald, division supervisor for Public Health Inspection.
Actually, it’s been 16 months so far (read on). And here we see another variation on the blame game: this time the question of who pays for treatment. It sounds like this kept things tied up while bed bugs bred and the problem spread.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes 70 percent of the residents’ rent, knows about the bedbug problem, said Marcie LaPorte, director of the Denver Multifamily Hub.
“A worse-case scenario would be to not pay the subsidy part of the rent, but we would like to do everything we can before it gets to that point,” LaPorte said.
Cutting off the subsidy would only worsen the situation because there would be less money for the upkeep of the building, said Cris White, chief operating officer at the Colorado Housing and Financing Authority, which ensures residents qualify for the assistance.
Mark Shulman, managing director of Urban Inc., said the “challenges at the Halcyon House are many.”
Chief among them is the widespread bedbug infestation, which prompted the city to take the matter to court.
“There was simply no funds for which to pay” the pest-control company, Shulman said. The company that owns the building stopped providing the money in late April, he added.
American Housing Protection Corp. did not a return a call for comment Thursday.
Denver Environmental Health officials said Urban Inc. resumed pest-control operations after they were cited May 14. But since bedbugs can never be completely eradicated, the spraying has to continue indefinitely to keep them under control.
Grimsinger said if things don’t improve, residents will picket in front of their building.
“We deserve the same treatment as anybody else in this city,” he said.
To say that “since bedbugs can never be completely eradicated, the spraying has to continue indefinitely to keep them under control” is not accurate in itself. Bed bugs can be eliminated from an entire building. To do so using routine sprayings is very difficult. It may have been possible to eradicate them using traditional methods (sprays and dusts) if the PCO had known what they were doing and treated aggressively enough and regularly enough and had the residents been educated about the process and the do’s and don’ts. At this point, the building may need to be treated with Vikane gas (if this is legal in Denver). If Vikane is not legal there, perhaps thermal treatment is possible.
To make matters more interesting, here’s a tidbit the article leaves out. Back in August, the Denver Post reported that this affordable housing building is owned by a group of investors (American Housing Preservation Corp) that includes Shaquille O’Neal.
Eric Pusch, a resident who uses a wheelchair, said it is “such a tragedy to wake up in the middle of the night and briefly turn on my television and, from the light of the television, I can see the bugs swarming all over the pillow next to me. I might reach over and try to brush them off or smash them, and a blood spot is left.”
Ellen Dumm, spokeswoman for the city’s department of environmental health, called the company cooperative and said the owner has been using an extermination company to get rid of the bugs.
Mark Shulman of the Greenwood Village-based property-management company Urban Inc. said the level of treatment the company has been maintaining is “status quo,” but it became apparent last week that it needed to eradicate the bugs and move to another level of treatment.
Shulman said the owners are pursuing an aggressive treatment proposal, going apartment by apartment this week, evacuating and treating entire floors.
“We recognize the problem,” Shulman said.
Efforts to reach O’Neal through his agent or the Miami Heat basketball team were not successful.
Either the problem was “recognized” too late, or the treatment was not aggressive enough. For whatever reasons, all in all, these people have had bed bugs since February 2006 (16 months), and the disabled residents are now living with more bed bugs than ever.
Yeah, yeah, I realize it’s complicated. But still.
Shame on the owners, and the city, for not making this right. Shame on the US government, too, for not seeing this as a problem for which they need to fund solutions. Because we are going to see this more and more: whatever the situation was in this case, there will be homeowners and landlords who can’t pay for treatment, or can’t pay for effective treatment. We can’t let people live with bed bugs indefinitely. And here’s the thing, the more people living with bed bugs, because of nonexistent or poor treatment, the more people will get bed bugs. They spread. Lawmakers and people who can take care of their own pest control costs may shake their heads and say, “too bad.” But it is not someone else’s problem, it is everyone’s problem. They will spread to anyone. We all have much more contact with one another on a daily basis than some of us would like to admit.
A warning to those who shake their heads and sigh, “Not my problem”: if you let poor people live with bed bugs, then bed bugs will, eventually, appear in your bed, to quite literally bite you in the ass.