Bed bugs in Toronto public housing: the city does not have it together

by nobugsonme on April 13, 2010

in bed bugs, bed bugs in public housing, Joe Fiorito, spread of bed bugs, toronto

When it comes to bed bugs, many folks have the idea that Toronto has its act together.

Why?  Because it has a task force (the Toronto Bed Bug Project), initiatives like Bug and Scrub, a Public Health hotline (Toronto Health Connection 416-338-7600) where residents can call and report bed bugs so that a Public Health Inspector may follow up.  Simply admitting your city has a bed bug problem is a big deal; compared to many cities, Toronto seems to be miles ahead.

Despite this, we are hearing a lot of bed bug horror stories coming out of Toronto — especially in Toronto Community Housing Corporation (public housing) buildings.

Joe Fiorito has long been one of the most consistent voices in bed bug journalism,  and he is continuing to shine the light on Toronto residents’ plight.

In an article from Sunday’s Toronto Star, Fiorito visits with Vit, a 2-year resident of a TCHC building at 40 Gordonridge, who first noticed bed bugs shortly after moving in.

He has filed requests for maintenance. His apartment has been sprayed. But he has trouble breathing; the chemicals do him no good.He refused a second spraying. He bought a steamer. And he has been vigilant. But he is, if his neighbour is any example, fighting a rearguard action.

Recently, he took [Toronto Community Housing Corporation] to the Landlord and Tenant Board. From the LTB ruling: “I am satisfied that the Landlord’s proposed means of addressing bed bugs falls within the generally accepted practice in the City of Toronto …”

The LTB is too easily satisfied.

Vit took a survey of his building in February. He said, “I got 56 signatures from top to bottom; we have 19 floors. The total sprayings in the 56 apartments, over the last two years or so, has been 163.”

I read this as suggesting 56 signatories have a bed bug problem in the building, and that they have received a total of 163 treatments — or an average of 2.9 treatments each — in about two years.

There are several issues here.  First, where tenants have legitimate health reasons which force them to refuse traditional treatments, it still seems necessary for them to be provided with licensed, experienced professional treatment.

Even if you ignore Vit as one of the 56 signatories, no one in the building is getting sufficient treatment to eliminate bed bugs.  It is commonly accepted practice for follow-up bed bug treatments to happen at approximately 2-week intervals.   In addition, all infested apartments should be treated concurrently.  An average of less than three treatments in two years is not going to cut it.

The Landlord and Tenant Board ruling confirming the landlord’s plan of addressing bed bugs was acceptable suggests the housing laws are not in touch with the reality of how difficult bed bugs are to treat.

This story also takes in other harrowing details of life at 40 Gordonridge: Vit’s elderly neighbor has deposited her own mattress which is clearly infested with bed bugs right outside her door.  No one instructed her on how to seal it.  No one helped her move her furniture for treatment.

In the end, Vit and Joe Fiorito asked maintenance to seal and remove the mattress, and had to then insist they vacuum the floor where it had stood.

This is how bed bugs spread in a building: lack of education about bed bugs, lack of support with bed bug prep for those who need it, and a lack of maintenance-side procedures for eliminating cross-contamination.

This is how bed bugs persist for years: treatments insufficient to get rid of bed bugs, piecemeal treatments (and a lack of proactive inspections of surrounding units), and tenants refusing bed bug treatments (and not given alternative assistance if warranted).

We heard two weeks ago about how Bill Huddlestone, in another TCHC building, has had 21 treatments in two years, and still has bed bugs.

I agree with forum participants’ suggestions pertaining to that story that pest control operators, tenants and management need to cooperate together to solve bed bug problems, but it is pretty clear from Fiorito’s stories that the TCHC ultimately is not doing what it should do to help its residents live without bed bugs.


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