Little Bedbugs, Big Pain for City Housing
Saturday, August 20, 2011
The Housing Authority of the City of Austin has spent nearly
$40,000 over the past year fighting bedbugs in 15 of its 19
Since September 2010, the authority has been treating the
insects, whose bites leave itchy red welts on the skin. Over the
past year, 166 of the housing authority's 1,928 units have been
treated for bedbugs, said Sylvia Blanco , vice president of housing
and community development for the agency.
"There are peaks and valleys," Blanco said. "It also depends on
the season, but right now we're having a spike because people are
trying to get out of the heat. They're staying indoors, and
sometimes they're bringing the bugs with them."
Bedbug infestations in recent years have increased dramatically
all over the country. The bugs have wreaked havoc in all kinds of
buildings: luxury hotels, department stores and private homes, to
name a few. Locally, they've hit student apartments around the
University of Texas and the Austin State Supported Living Center,
which houses people with intellectual disabilities. Austin Travis
Integral Care has spent $14,000 over the past year battling the
bugs in seven of its 46 properties for people with mental
The Austin housing authority contracts with Oliver Termite and
Pest Control for monthly treatments for roaches, ants and other
insects at all its housing facilities, Blanco said. The company
sprays for bedbugs after receiving a complaint from residents. Each
apartment generally gets one treatment, which could include two or
three visits from the exterminator, Blanco said.
"Maybe on occasion it could take a second treatment," she said.
"But typically it's pretty effective in the first treatment."
If the bugs come back after the warranty period, usually 30 days
after the last treatment, residents are required to pay for
additional service, Blanco said. That costs residents between $175
and $265 . The pest control company also speaks with residents
extensively on ways to avoid a reinfestation, such as inspecting
all furniture before bringing it into the apartment.
The housing authority does not deny treatment to anyone and
tries to be flexible when charging residents, all of whom are
low-income, Blanco said. Many people pay off the bill through a
Bedbugs are notoriously hard to get rid of because they are
nocturnal and elusive and can go more than a year without eating.
They hide in crevices, in furniture, even in books. In apartment
complexes, they can easily travel from unit to unit, said Missy
Henriksen, spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association
"They will crawl through the baseboards, cracks in the walls and
the electrical outlets," she said.
Even the most extensive treatments can be ineffective. The Fort
Worth Housing Authority spent hundreds of thousands of dollars last
year battling bedbugs in one apartment complex - even paying to
replace carpets and treat residents' belongings - but still had to
permanently shutter the building when the bugs refused to
surrender. More than 200 residents had to move.
Simmie Burke, 68 , said he had bedbugs about a year ago in his
third-floor home at Austin's Lakeside Apartments, a Trinity Street
complex owned by the housing authority. The pest control company
sprayed, he said, which slowed the insects down. But when the
insects returned a few weeks later, Burke decided to battle the
bugs on his own, treating the apartment and all of his belongings
with pesticide .
"A lot of people have them, but they're ashamed," Burke said.
"They shouldn't be. It's not about hygiene. They're all over the