“It’s outta control out here!”
James Hayes has lived in the Jasper Parrish public housing project in Buffalo for more than 22 years.
“Everybody out here is complaining about bed bugs,” says Hayes.
A neighbor at Jasper Parrish, Emily Scherer rolled up her sleeves for 2 On-Your-Side to show us where she says some bed bug bites had healed on her arms.
Scherer says, “I have never experienced anything like that. I was eaten. I thought I was eaten up my mosquitoes or spiders or something. No. It was absolutely bed bugs.”
She adds she has just purchased her third mattress in a month. The other two she had to discard because of bed bug were found on them.
For at least the last two years, the little blood-sucking parasites have been an expensive problem for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA). The agency has laid out more than $150,000 for exterminators and other efforts to get rid of bed bugs on its properties.
And the problem is not limited to Jasper Parrish.
2 On-Your-Side asked the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for independent inspections the agency has done on all city public housing projects.
After over a year of waiting, HUD delivered a small number of the inspection reports.
All but one mentions a “bed bugs”. Here are the most recent HUD inspections:
JASPER PARRISH – INSPECTED SEPTEMBER 2015
The development failed inspection. Its overall score was 52. Passing is 60.
Among the things inspectors found were three blocked emergency exits, exposed bare electrical wires, 15 smoke detectors missing or not working. The cover sheet to the report notes “bed bugs” in multiple buildings.
SHAFFER VIILLAGE – INSPECTED AUGUST 2015
This west side development first built in 1953 also failed inspection. It received a score of 55.
Here, inspectors discovered seven smoke detectors missing or inoperable, evidence of cockroaches and bed bugs. A December 2014 inspection had noted Shaffer Village’s bed bug problem was in “multiple buildings and units”.
KENFIELD HOMES – INSPECTED JANUARY 2015
Unlike the other two developments, Kenfield Homes passed inspection with a score of 69.
Originally built in 1937, it is one of the oldest BMHA properties. It’s beg bug problem appears to be widespread and persistent.
Bed bugs were found in “multiple buildings and units”. A follow-up inspection seven months later reports “bed bugs in 36 buildings and 54 units”.
To find out what was being done to eliminate bed bugs in city public housing, 2 On-Your-Side turned to BMHA executive director Dawn Sander-Garrett.
“Because bed bugs exist we have to educate people in general in how to deal with them,” says Sanders-Garrett.
Sanders-Garrett says there’s been a sustained effort to make sure people living in public housing know how bed bugs can be spread.
“They’re carried through people and they climb and they crawl. They don’t fly or anything like that so that have to be brought in by people.”
Bed bugs are hitch-hikers, able to attach themselves to anything made of cloth or similar material.
If bed bugs are transported out of an infested home, after extermination is complete, they can catch a ride right back in on clothing, furniture, bedding and backpacks.
And household cleaning habits have nothing to do with where bed bugs might turn up.
David Wallace, owner of pest removal service Nuisance No More, says he gotten bed bug calls from a wide range of homes and incomes, from million-dollar homes to small apartments, “Cleanliness has nothing to do with it. We have people that have maids. Their house is spotless and they can be totally infested with bed bugs.”
Of BMHA's 33-properties across the city, 28 have had at least one bed bug case reported since January 2015. A spokesperson says the greatest concentration of bed bed cases is in high-occupancy buildings that have ten or more units and in towers. No details were offered about which developments have seen bed bugs or how many individual bed bug cases have cropped up at the various properties.
In our interview with Sanders-Garrett, repeatedly mentioned how pricey the problem was for her cash-strapped agency.
“The costs to treat (beg buds) generally falls within a $135 to $150 for the first treatment and that just of one unit,” says Sanders-Garrett.
And often a second or third visit is required make sure bed bugs have been driven from a dwelling.
Sanders-Garrett adds, “There has been times that we’ve done (extermination) for a whole building. We’ve gone floor by floor. That’s why the overall costs for the authority has continued to increase."
Asked if the bed bug problem at BMHA is getting better or worse, Garrett-Sanders answered, “I think it’s an on-going issue that the BMHA will continue to have to combat.”
That’s not what the bed bug-weary folks at Jasper Parrish want to hear. Hayes says he’s been asked to move another unit in the development, but doesn’t want to go.
“We’re scared to move into another apartment because we know our apartment don’t have any bugs. We made sure of that. So, we don’t want to give our apartment to nobody else because we have no bugs in our apartment.”
Scherer standing nearby added, “It’s ridiculous. Nobody should have to put up with bed bugs.”
A spokesperson for the City of Buffalo acknowledges that there have been reports of bed bugs at the Marine Drive Apartments, although the city did not provide specific information about which towers or which apartments, or even how many reports they've received.
Thursday, we met Marie. She's lived at the Marine Drive Apartments for 17 years and is a retired teacher. Marie contacted 2 On Your Side after hearing about Steve Brown's story before it aired and agreed to an interview if we did not show her face or use her full name.
Marie told us that her neighbors say the bed bugs are back.
She says they dealt with them at the Marine Drive Apartments a few years ago and that the BMHA got rid of them. He says some of her neighbors had to get rid of their furniture back then.
While Marie hasn't seen any bed bugs yet this time, she has seen rats. Marie says they're getting into her building through a gap under the door. She says for her this is a huge quality of life issue.
"You want to be in an environment where you feel safe, clean, and secure, and don't have to worry about when you walk out the door, am I going to trip over a rat, or if I go to someone's home and I sit down, am I going to be taking an insect home with me? That bothers me. It really does bother me. And I don't think that this is a good thing for anyone to have to live with," says Marie.
Marie also worries that while she is very careful about the people she lets into her apartment, she thinks she could get bed bugs because she shares washing machines with other tenants.