This Columbia Spectator article focuses on the personal plight of some folks with bed bugs living near Columbia University. It’s a nice article bound to raise some awareness of the problem. But what interests me is the section citing HPD statistics on bed bugs in NYC.
It cites the city’s HPD stats on bed bugs (which again, do not line up with those provided by other publications):
Seth Donlin, press secretary for New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said the city received 1,729 bedbug complaints and issued 437 violations to landlords in the last fiscal year. Community District 9, which stretches from 110th to 155th Streets, was “on the higher side,” Donlin said, receiving 216 complaints and issuing 53 violations.
In the fiscal year that ended in June, 6,889 infestation complaints were logged and 2,008 building owners were hit with summonses.
What’s with these numbers? Either the Daily News is wrong, or the Columbia Spectator is.
But even more interesting is the fact that, as the Spectator reports
Donlin added that renters with unresponsive landlords should calls the city’s non-emergency service line at 311 to “start a paper trail” in case the situation must be brought to court.
So a HPD representative actually spells out for a journalist the fact that people do not report their bed bug cases to HPD via 311 unless landlords are not responsive. It’s something you do if your landlord is ignoring your request for help, and then also if you are not afraid of alienating him/her for any reason (as filing a housing complaint might well do so).
Well, we sure knew that. And we know how very rarely people call 311, because we hear from people with bed bugs every day.
And yet every newspaper and their brother wants to tell everyone exactly how many bed bug cases NYC was hit with last year, and cites the 311 stats for evidence of how big or small the problem is.
I want to be clear that this is not a beef with the journalist at the Spectator, but a problem I am having with these HPD statistics (and the NYCHA statistics the Washington Post trotted out) and how well they mask the real numbers of bed bug sufferers in NYC. They make the problem seem quite small, and it is not.
The fact that the numbers are not consistent from article to article merely adds salt to my wounds.
But the real NYC bed bug story is that the city needs to start tracking infestations — and not via a housing complaint hotline — so we know exactly how many people are truly affected. My guess is if that happened, bed bugs would be a much bigger priority.