Apr 23


Bed bug infestation in Buffalo public housing

Senior residents say their apartments are overrun with bed bugs, cockroaches and rodents. The problems don't end there.

Bed bugs are out of control at the Buffalo’s Municipal Housing Authority’s Lyndon B. Johnson Apartments, according to tenants who say the infestation is just one of many problems at the 10-story building at Main Street and Humboldt Parkway.

“Everyone in this building has bed bugs,” said Erma Ecford, a tenant representative in the 206-unit building who has lived at LBJ the past 10 years. 

Many tenants are struggling financially because of the cost of replacing furniture and buying pest control products, she said. The median income of tenants in the LBJ Apartments is $16,531, according to a demographics report from BMHA.

“We have a lot of people who are throwing away their furniture and now we have to sleep on floors,” Ecford said. “We can’t afford to buy anything else.”

Photos provided by Erma Ecford.

LBJ is the housing authority’s largest senior development. Seventy percent of tenants are elderly and many of them are disabled, making a bed bug infestation, among other problems, particularly troublesome.

“We have blind people in the building; they don’t know what they’re sitting on, they don’t know what they’re eating,” said Ecford. “They could be laying on bed bugs. They could be eating roaches.”

Another tenant, Tina Moore, who spends most of her time in a wheelchair, said she didn’t know her apartment had bed bugs until she had to be relocated to another unit within the building. Movers discovered the insects crawling out of her mattress and boxes of her belongings.

“I don’t want to get ate up,” she said.

BMHA Executive Director Gillian Brown said that he’s aware of, and sympathetic to, the bed bug issue and that BMHA is doing its best to eliminate bed bugs and other pests and rodents across its complexes.

“We have spent hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of thousands of dollars at LBJ alone doing extermination inspections, actual exterminations,” he said. 

“Bed bugs, as everybody knows, is a nearly intractable problem. Once you get them in a building, it is extremely difficult to get rid of them,” he said.

Residents said there was a dead bed bug on a community room couch at LBJ Apartments. Photo by Garrett Looker.

Brown said the authority is asking residents to help address the problem by eliminating clutter and complying with exterminators’ instructions when bed bugs are found, but he also recognizes many tenants at LBJ are having a particularly difficult time.

“We have a very fragile population at LBJ. We have a lot of frail elderly and it is very difficult, and we are working through it,” he said.

The building is 85 percent occupied, with a current hold on leasing while kitchen and bathroom renovations are underway. Brown said. Nearly 80 percent of tenants are classified as “extremely low income,” with over three-quarters claiming government assistance as their main source of income. Seventy percent of tenants are Black and 17 percent are of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity. 

Cases across complexes

This isn’t the first time bed bugs have become a problem at LBJ Apartments, tenants said.

Ecford relocated from Missouri and moved into the building about 10 years ago to take care of her father, who was also a tenant at the LBJ Apartments. She said she immediately encountered the pests.

“I took care of my dad there, and I found out that we had to throw his whole bed out because of the bed bugs,” she said, adding: “I just recently had to throw my brand new mattress out for bed bugs.” 

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Infestations at the LBJ Apartments are not limited to bed bugs.

“By me being a tenant rep, I get to see firsthand everybody’s apartment, and it is disgusting the way we are living,” Ecford said. “We have roaches walking down the hallway. They try to beat you in before you even get into your own apartment.”

Added Jeannine Threet, a tenant at LBJ for about four months: 

“This is ridiculous; all of these roaches coming down from the ceiling and then falling on me. I can’t stand it, you know?” 

Ecford, left, gathered with other tenants to speak about the issues at LBJ Apartments. Photo by Garrett Looker.

There’s also a rodent problem, residents said. At the time of Investigative Post’s visit, there were mice droppings in an armchair within the apartment building’s community room, which Ecford said had been there for about a week. There was also a rat trap at the building’s exterior.

The problems aren’t limited to the LBJ Apartments, however.

A tenant from Slater Courts confronted BMHA commissioners at a board meeting last week about bed bugs in his Seneca Street apartment. Martin Mlodozeniec said he has been living with the bugs for over a year, even after trying to solve the problem himself.

“I have mental scars, I have physical scars and I have financial scars,” Mlodozniec said.

The housing authority recently announced a new “proactive strategy” to eradicate bed bugs and other pests by conducting a “BMHA-wide inspection of all apartments.” The authority said it has partnered with Erlich Pest Control to identify and eliminate bugs and pests.

“This authority in the last two years has done more to combat roaches, bed bugs, rats and mice than had been done by this authority for probably 15 years previous,” Brown said. “We have some $600,000 allocated just towards pest removal over the course of this year and next.”

Other problems

In addition to infestations, LBJ tenants say they have concerns with bad plumbing, faulty facilities and a lack of security.

“Upstairs floods all the time,” said Ron Washington, a tenant since 2003. “It leaks down into the light fixture in my bathroom. When I turn my faucet on in my tub, the water runs on the floor from behind the wall where the faucet and the knobs are. My toilet only flushes every now and then.”

Residents are also concerned about intruders. Ecford says homeless people have unscrewed lightbulbs and cut wires to alarm systems to sleep in stairwells and on the rooftop. Trespassers throw parties on the rooftop, do illicit drugs and defecate in the stairwells, residents said.

About three weeks ago, an intruder broke into the community room, destroyed recently installed arcade machines and stole security cameras off of the walls, residents said 

“I don’t think it’s fair to us elderly people in our golden years to have to live this way – unsafe and in deplorable conditions.” Ecford said.

Tenants also report leaky ceilings, and defective washers and dryers in the community laundry room. Elevators frequently break down even though they were replaced in 2019 to the tune of $2 million.

“It’s not good for those elevators to break down like that when you have people in wheelchairs, walkers, some people can’t get up or down the stairwell,” said Donna Colbert, a resident substitute maintenance worker and resident of the LBJ Apartments since 2010.

Donna Colber, left. Photo by Garrett Looker.

“It’s like we’re the last house on the block. There’s nothing being done at all,” Colbert said.

That isn’t the case, according to Brown.

“LBJ is a building that is very important to the housing authority,” he said. “It’s not some forgotten little island that gets no attention. I assume there are tenant councils in the city who will say LBJ has gotten far more attention than any other developments that we have in terms of the amount of work we’ve done there and the amount of attention we’ve paid to the physical conditions.”

That work, Brown said, includes re-paving the parking lot and renovating kitchens and bathrooms.

Brown said he wasn’t aware of some of the problems tenants raised with Investigative Post.

“I haven’t gotten those calls,” he said. “Anecdotally, there will always be a tenant that feels that their complaint has fallen through the cracks. We don’t have work orders that are just sitting undone for three months.”

“We’ve had eyes on most of the units in that place in the not-distant past so if there is a persistent problem or if someone has a work order for something that they feel is not getting attention, they should contact me; they should contact their manager,” he said.

Tenants say that hasn’t worked.

Ecford said many tenants are fearful of retaliation if they speak up, but she and others felt they have been left with no other choice.

“I told them as long as their rent is paid, we shouldn’t have a problem, but if I have some repercussions behind this, oh well, but I’m not going to keep living like this,” she said

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Tenant Lauren Dove is taking a different approach.

“They want me to pay rent, but they’re not doing anything,” said Dove, who has been living in the LBJ Apartments since 1995. Dove said she is currently in court with the housing authority for nonpayment of rent. She said she has not paid rent in three months because the bed bug infestation in her apartment has not been addressed. 

Washington said he’s thinking about following Dove’s lead.

“I’m considering withholding my rent because it’s just ridiculous,” he said. “You can’t get them to fix nothing.”

Investigative Post

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