Mayor Clay Declares 'War' on Bed Bugs

Chicago Sun Times
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

GARY - Mayor Rudy Clay Tuesday promised to "declare war on bedbugs" infesting a senior citizen high rise.

Residents said a swarm of city officials descended on the Al Thomas High Rise, on 11th and Broadway, one day after The Post-Tribune published a story on the residents' daily struggle against bedbugs and other pests, such as cockroaches and rodents.

"It looked like the whole city of Gary came down here, and you couldn't find a parking space on 11th Avenue," said resident Beverly Johnson. "It was a whole slew of them, and they even brought the exterminator."

Last week, the residents shared horror stories of insect problems and showed glass and plastic jars holding living and dead bedbugs collected from their beds and furniture. They also complained about poor living conditions in the building, which is owned and operated by the Gary Housing Authority.

The residents said they have complained to GHA officials to no avail, but GHA Director Alfreda Peterson last week promised to attack the insect infestations.

She promised to bring in an extermination contractor that likely would try to clean the building out floor by floor. Last week, Peterson also said the agency has continually tried to educate residents on how to handle the bug problem.

Peterson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Clay, who built most of his political career by wooing senior citizens' votes, said the conditions will be fixed "on my watch."

"We're taking a new attitude at the GHA, fixing up these buildings for our senior citizens to live comfortable," Clay said. "I don't want to point fingers at anyone. I just want to get it done, and we're going to leave no stone unturned."

Johnson said city officials were short on details, but residents welcomed the renewed attention.

"It was an emergency meeting, and (officials) said they're going to clean things up," she said. "We're going to see what happens, but (Clay) was not pleased with the conditions."

The GHA recently ended its contract with Chicago-based Woodlawn Development Corp., a controversial agency that managed most of the GHA's properties.

The resulting gap in coverage has meant a lull in the ongoing war on pests in GHA properties, according to officials.