Bedbugs prove to be persistent pests in Manchester high rises
By MARK HAYWARD New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER — Frustrated over complaints he receives from tenants, a Manchester alderman who wrote the state’s new bedbug law said he wants to review the strategy Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority has for dealing with the pests.
Residents at the O’Malley high rise in downtown Manchester say they have thrown away furniture and bedding, had their apartments treated and done everything expected of them, only to have the bedbugs return.
“I get bitten. My sheets are all bloody. I’ve got bedbug (feces) all over everything,” said Timothy Callis, who lives on the fifth floor and said his apartment has been treated five times since January. “They’ve got to try something else.”
Dick Dunfey, the executive director of the housing authority, said bedbugs have been a problem at the housing authority for years, as they have in other housing authorities as well as apartment complexes and hotels across the country.
Currently, the problem is worse at O’Malley and the Kalivas, the twin downtown high-rises that house the elderly and people with disabilities.
He said 17 room treatments have taken place at the 99-unit O’Malley high rise between January and June; 20 at Kalivas.
“It’s impossible to prevent them from coming in, so there’s no way to permanently eradicate bedbugs from any site. They don’t obey signs prohibiting them,” Dunfey said.
Dunfey said the housing authority employs a full-time pest-control technician. And it spent $119,600 in its last fiscal year on salaries and contractors to address bedbugs.
But to several O’Malley residents, something more needs to be done.
Pam Karalekas, who lives on the eighth floor, said her apartment has been treated 13 times in the last 1 1/2 years, when bedbugs started appearing. Every night, she runs her hand under her pillow case to check for the bugs.
She shows pillow cases stained with dots of blood.
“I’m not afraid of them anymore. I’m desensitized to them,” she said. She’s asked for chemical treatments, but the management has refused, she said. Meanwhile, she has to deal with a social stigma.
“People look at you like you have the plague,” she said.
Dunfey said he can’t speak about individual cases, but the most times any apartment at O’Malley has been treated is six times.
Manchester Alderman Pat Long said he’s heard from six to eight people in the last eight months. Long, whose downtown Ward 3 includes the two high-rises, met with Dunfey last week and asked to review the housing authority’s pest management plan.
“I’m not convinced they’re doing the right type of (pest) management. Things seem to be getting worse,” Long said. Long chaired the New Hampshire Bed Bug Action Committee, and he authored a bedbug law that goes into effect Jan. 1. It lays out responsibilities for landlords and tenants when it comes to eradicating bedbugs.
Long agreed with Dunfey that bedbugs are difficult to eliminate. That is why it is essential that the housing authority has a well thought-out control plan, Long said.
“You just don’t go in there, spray and they’re all gone,” he said.
Residents say the most frequent treatment used is heat. The treatment involves heating an apartment between 120 and 140 degrees for several hours. Residents must prepare their apartments for the treatment, which involves protecting plasma televisions and removing aeresol spray cans. They also have to leave for the day.
Residents said they can wait a month for treatment after they complain about bedbugs. Dunfey said the average wait time is three weeks.
He said the housing authority has gone as far as ripping out walls to reach bedbug hiding places.
He said the housing authority can’t afford the strategy used by Langdon Mills three years ago.
The owner, Manchester landlord and developer Dick Anagnost, relocated the 16 tenant families so the building could be treated for two weeks to eradicate bedbugs.
Meanwhile, social service agencies found new furniture for the tenants and educated them on how to prevent bedbugs.
Dunfey said he wouldn’t be able to do such a massive relocation. And he can’t prohibit tenants from bringing used furniture and clothing — one of the transmitters of bedbugs — into their apartment.
So for the time at least, the bedbugs have a home.
During a visit last week, Callis found a bedbug on the floor of a neighbor, Joe Field.
“It’s just a losing battle,” Field said. “You get so frustrated, so stressed out.”