WKYT in Kentucky reports that residents of low-income housing units run by the Public Housing Authority in Frankfort, Kentucky, have to pay for their own bed bug treatment, at a cost of $500-600.
This seems to be fairly unusual for public housing. And it is not a great idea. New Jersey residents are discussing whether New Jersey landlords should continue to be allowed to pass on the costs of bed bug treatment to tenants, a situation that may cause low-income tenants to hesitate in reporting bed bugs or getting treatment. They may simply be unable to pay. The same is surely true in Frankfort, especially among low-income tenants.
But Carole Anthony, the Housing Authority of Frankfort Executive Director, argues that public housing tenants should pay for bed bug treatment,
. . . since it is, in fact, their responsibility. They don’t move into an apartment that has bed bugs. They move into a clean apartment.
Whoa, Nellie! Once again, public officials are equating bed bugs with a lack of hygiene. This is an error.
Bed bugs are not attracted to unclean environments. If you bring bed bugs home, you will have bed bugs, whether you are living in a spotless, expensive home, or a dirty shack. (Clutter makes the problem worse, but certainly does not cause it.)
As one Frankfort housing authority tenant’s mother, Dene Jackson, says “they’re in low-income housing. How are they supposed to pay?”
And I suspect that some of the tenants do indeed “move into an apartment that has bed bugs.”
The housing authority’s protocol sounds extreme — everything is moved out of the apartments and tenants are kicked out for 72 hours. Tenants are told to remove all their stuff or have it thrown out. Carole Anthony suggests this is because some of the infestations have been quite severe; she tells WKYT they’ve opened refrigerators to find them full of bed bugs, and treatment has included replacing kitchen appliances.
Even if someone was not reacting to bed bug bites, surely they would have noticed such a severe infestation. If the housing authority is finding homes in such apparently advanced and obvious states of bed bug infestation, this tells me three things:
1) They need to be educating tenants about bed bugs and their signs,
2) They need to implement some routine bed bug inspections, and most importantly,
3) They seriously need to consider whether, perhaps, tenants are so concerned about the costs of treatment that they are not reporting the problem even when they recognize it.
If a person on a low-income is faced with a $500-600 bill, plus the cost of laundry, bagging, removing items, replacing them, and disappearing from the home for 72 hours, as well as the time and energy all of the preparations take, we have to acknowledge this is a serious disincentive towards taking action.
The article reports, “The housing authority says it will make payment plans available.” But this is hardly enough. Even spread over a year, it might cost tenants $50 a month that they simply do not have.
If I lived in Frankfort, Kentucky, I would consider the fact that as long as the public housing authority is making it hard for low-income tenants to get help with their bed bug problems, bed bugs will continue to spread quickly in Frankfort.
More and more people will discover that bed bugs do not discriminate, and are not caused by not living in a “clean” home. And they’ll discover how exhausting and expensive this problem really is.
And maybe they’ll come to realize that if anyone in your town has a bed bug problem, you have a bed bug problem too.