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Watertown Housing Authority copes with bedbugs

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Michael C. Robare, executive director of the Watertown Housing Authority, says he knows an “initial panic” sets in when his tenants hear that bedbugs have made it into a unit at a Housing Authority property.

Every so often, a tenant unknowingly brings the blood-sucking, mostly nocturnal insects into an apartment. That occurred last month with a tenant who had an infestation and went through an extermination process.

Mr. Robare said that over the past two years, bedbugs have been found about a dozen times in a unit in four of the Housing Authority’s seven properties. When the insects are discovered, a professional exterminator is called to work with authority staff members and the tenant to get rid of the bugs and prevent another infestation, Mr. Robare said.

“The biggest thing is getting the tenants involved,” said Melissa C. Snyder, the Housing Authority’s tenant-relations coordinator.

Miss Snyder noted that bedbugs can hit anywhere, including five-star hotels, luxurious apartments and suburban homes.

In New York City, the bedbug problem has gotten so bad that the city’s Housing Authority has put together a 12-page write-up for property managers and tenants outlining how to recognize whether they have the insects, how they grow and reproduce, what to do to prevent an invasion and how to get rid of them.

“They don’t discriminate at all,” Mr. Robare said of bedbugs, adding that tenants can be “shunned” or “blacklisted” by others if they find out which Housing Authority unit has become infested.

As part of her job, Miss Snyder goes into each of the authority’s properties and talks to tenants about how to prevent bedbugs. She said the education program helps tenants understand what can be done to prevent an infestation and the necessity of reporting it early if one does happen in their unit.

Miss Snyder said an infestation is not caused by dirt, although a cluttered area can make it more difficult to rid a home of bedbugs, which typically invade the bedroom, climbing up bedposts and getting into the mattress, bedding and sometimes other furniture.

The bugs bite and then feed on human blood, leaving small red marks — often without waking the victim.

Ronald G. Jacobs, an exterminator with Pugliese Pest Solutions in Utica, said he makes weekly visits to check for potential bug or rodent problems at Watertown Housing Authority properties.

With the state now banning certain pesticides, Mr. Jacobs said, he depends on an integrated pest-management program, a multi-step process that includes more environmentally friendly intervention. Bedbug larvae also must be eradicated.

Mr. Robare said the authority makes sure bedding and clothing are washed, and tenants are given pillowcase and mattress encasings. In subsequent weeks, staff members conduct follow-up visits with tenants to make sure the situation is improving.

“We do what it takes,” Mr. Robare said.

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