CENTERVILLE, IOWA — Shamrock Heights is a HUD housing project in Centerville, Iowa for seniors and people with disabilities. For almost two years, the building, which is owned by the Centerville Chamber of Commerce, has been plagued with bedbugs.
When bugs first appeared, a local pest company, Bugout, held a tenant informational meeting and assured tenants the problem would be resolved. It wasn’t, and eventually the bugs hitchhiked to apartments on all four floors of the building.
Life changed. Books and games were removed from the recreation room. Potlucks and bloodpressure clinics stopped. Fearful of carrying bugs to their own home, people stopped visiting one another.
When more apartments became infested, tenants who had bugs were told to trash everything not sealed in plastic. A red dumpster was delivered and the affected residents soon had it filled with their televisions, microwaves, computers, furniture, clothing, and keepsakes.
To make matters worse, vacated apartments were cleaned, sprayed, and rented out to unsuspecting tenants who soon found they had bedbugs.
More than a year passed before Bugout brought in an additional pesticide. Apartments were so heavily drenched in it, puddles of chemicals were left under beds and on kitchen floors. There was no way to circulate fresh air because bathrooms have neither windows nor vents (a violation of the federal housing code).
Tenants who felt forced to move, found deposits couldn’t be returned until 30 days after move-out. One tenant, who moved unaware into an infested apartment, lost his deposit because he left before his one-year lease was up. With no money for a new place, he moved into his pick up.
This is unacceptable. To avoid having more residents become homeless, the Chamber’s decision on deposits must be reversed until the bedbug problem is completely resolved.
Also, because the problem should never have progressed to the point where tenants had to throw away belongings, the Chamber should assist its tenants in replacing them.
The building needs to be brought up to federal code and retrofitted with a ventilation system to circulate fresh air through the apartments.
Also, since the current pest control company appears unable to make progress without the overuse of chemicals, which may be harmful to tenants suffering from respiratory ailments and allergies, the Chamber should seek a different company.
The Chamber’s lack in this situation brings up the question of how aware and responsive the Executive Committee is to the housing needs of the seniors and people with disabilities who rent from them.
Calls to other Iowa Housing Authorities dealing with bedbugs indicate a ratio of one out of 300 apartments. The Chamber should determine what has to be done to bring the ratio of bedbug apartments in their building to an acceptable number. Every effort must be made by the Chamber to accommodate the housing needs of each of their tenants so they can live without the stress and worry of possibly losing their homel