Residents of White Plains Housing Authority buildings are being bitten by bed bugs, according to this article in The Journal News (via LoHud.com). White Plains Housing Authority officials say last year they “exterminated” for bed bugs in 47 of the 745 apartments they manage, and that as many as 15% may still be infested.
In my experience, however, tenants are very likely to either (a) not notice, (b) not report, or (c) try to self-treat bed bug problems. The actual rate of infestations in WPHA buildings is likely much higher.
Tenants say the number may be higher because many of them exterminate their apartments themselves without reporting the problem, with mixed results.
“They come back because they’re in the walls,” [Winbrook housing complex tenant Louise] Clark said. “It comes and goes. When it gets hot – it’s hot now – they come out. I keep spraying.”
Bobbie Sherill, who lives in a WPHA complex on Lake Street, took her complaint to the mayor’s office:
“I got up at 1 a.m. They’re on my couch,” she said outside Mayor Joseph Delfino’s City Hall office, where she went looking for help. “Where am I going to go after that? You shouldn’t have to live like that. We’re not animals.”
Housing Authority officials claim they’re trying to treat Sherill’s unit:
“We’ve attempted to get into her unit several times,” [Housing Authority executive director Mack] Carter said about Sherrill. “She’s not available or we’re not allowed in.”
Sherrill said the authority offered to exterminate her apartment on the day before Thanksgiving last year, an offer she rejected because she was hosting for the holiday. Instead, she began spraying her mattress with bleach and hot water every morning, which proved ineffective.
The county Department of Health recently told Sherrill it doesn’t respond to bedbug complaints because they don’t carry diseases and so are considered a nuisance rather than a public health problem. The county referred her to the city, which led her to Delfino’s office this month, where an aide took her number and promised to get back to her.
In the meantime, Carter said he will meet with his staff to discuss whether to abandon a policy that requires tenants who can afford extermination, which typically costs $100, to pay for the work.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can,” Carter said. “At some point, the residents have to take some responsibility, too.”
Tenants do need to report bed bug infestations, and cooperate with and prepare for treatment.
They also need to be educated about bed bugs. It’s understandable that someone might resist treatment the day before Thanksgiving. It’s unclear, if this was the case, why the treatment was not offered in the days following the holiday.
The Housing Authority is not just responsible for keeping Sherill’s home bed bug-free, they also have a responsibility to protect other tenants. If someone truly does refuse bed bug treatment (which does not sound like the case here), then there must be additional steps taken.
I would strongly urge WPHA to abandon the pest control charges for tenants. Yes, $100 for a pest control treatment might not seem like much, but keep in mind that when bed bugs come back repeatedly, tenants may either feel they can’t afford to keep paying, or they may feel treatment is not working, so why bother?
And $100 is a lot when you’re on a budget and when the actual cost of preparations for treatment (including laundering and bagging clothing) can be much higher and be required again and again.
What is needed in a complex with multiple active bed bug infestations is aggressive inspections and treatments. It is not enough to wait for tenants to call and report problems; in many cases, where tenants are not allergic to bed bug bites, they will never know, until problems are very far gone.
Ultimately, housing authorities and other building managers need to be more proactive about bed bug infestations in some of their units. They need to consult experts, such as entomologists who specialize in bed bugs, and formulate better plans for dealing with this (preferably before it comes up, or in the early stages). In the long run, it will save the management and tenants a lot of time, money, and heartache.