BUFFALO, N.Y. -- One of the oldest public housing projects in the country is Kenfield-Langfield in Buffalo. The sprawling property has one quarter of all of the public housing units managed by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
It also has the largest number of bed bug complains from residents.
“The bed bugs are so bad children and people are getting bitten on their face. They’re in their clothes. They don’t have room to hide…because there's so many of them,” says Neal Mack, a long-time resident at Kenfield-Langfield.
Mack's assessment confirms what 2 On-Your-Side found sifting through 1,300 pages of internal documents obtained from BMHA in a Freedom of Information request.
The documents included 801 work orders submitted by public housing tenants asking for help in getting rid of bed bugs in their homes. The papers represent a 22-month period from January 2016 through October 2016. That means during that time period, BMHA got on average a new bed bug complaint every day.
“I don’t know if I can classify it as the biggest challenge that we have in public housing,” says Modesto Candelario, assistant executive director at BMHA.
Candelario points out the agency manages and maintains almost 5,000 units of housing at almost three-dozen projects scattered across the city.
“We have a $40-million operating budget. We’re spending probably a $100-thousand a year, on average, on bedbugs," says Candelario.
2 On-Your-Side analysis of agency documents shows over half of all BMHA bed bug complaints are concentrated at four properties.
Residents at Shafer Village filed 65 bed bug work orders during the 22-month span. Ferry Grider Apartments saw 69-work orders turned in. The Commodore Perry Extension, which is across the street from BMHA headquarters, had 80 bed bug work orders. But the most bed bug related work orders, by far, came from Kenfield-Langfield with 224 requests for bed bug remediation.
“This is a problem throughout the city, throughout the country," notes Candelario.
Exterminators and entomologists agree. Bed bugs have found their way into all types of buildings including movie theaters, high-end hotels and country clubs. The blood-sucking parasites do not discriminate.
But one factor as to why the insects are a continuing problem in Buffalo's public housing is second-hand household goods.
"Used furniture is a big, big issue,” says Candelario.
Because public housing residents have little money, a hand-me-down mattress or sofa may be all they can afford. And there have been instances where furnishings removed from a bed bug infested home have been grabbed off the curb by unsuspecting public housing residents, bringing bed bugs home with them.
“We’re not going to tell them don’t because what would be their options in some cases?,” asks Candelario.
There is one option for struggling families, the Main Street thrift store run by the Society of St. Vincent DePaul.
“More often not the reason they’re call us is they had to get rid of the furniture they have because it has been infested,” says Mark Zirnheld, CEO of the organization.
Every donated item is screened at least three time for bed bugs before its added to their inventory. And Zirnheld says 85% of the clothing, furniture and bedding offered at the store is free.
But what about eliminating bed bugs from apartments at BMHA? Who does that job.
A thick stack of invoices for bed bug extermination shows just one company: Bugs & More.
A profile of the company on the Better Business Bureau website lists the owner at Eric Clear of Farnham. Information also indicates Clear started the business in January of 2014 and landed the pest control contract at BMHA the very next year.
Clear declined to speak with 2 On-Your-Side saying his attorney advised him not to.
Candelario described Bugs & More's work as adequate, "I think they do a decent job. I think they eradicate the problem almost every time we engage ‘em.”
But Neal Mack says BMHA doesn't even hear about every bed bug sighting, because people have lost faith in the agency's ability to fix the problem.
“Some people they just get tired of reporting them. So, they’ve been just handling it by themselves because they know (maintenance staff) is not going to come out.”