SRHA board approves bedbug cleanup

Published 10:04 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The end result may be that the bedbug problem at the Chorey Park Apartments finally gets solved, but it didn’t come without acrimony, handwringing and a censure resolution against the leadership of the Suffolk Redevelopment Housing Authority board and the agency’s attorney.

Following another bedbug discussion and closed-door meeting, commissioners voted during a special meeting Monday to approve a $100,400 contract with Accurid Pest Solutions to rid the apartment building of bedbugs while also providing each Chorey Park household with $500 to assist residents during the treatment process, with payments to be made 48 hours before the day of the first treatment.

“I feel that it’s been a situation that was really blown out of proportion,” said housing authority Executive Director Tracey Snipes following the meeting.

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But that followed a vote by commissioners to censure chairman Ben Fitzgerald, vice chairman Quinton Franklin and agency attorney Delphine Carnes for holding what the resolution said was an illegal meeting during a break in a scheduled Aug. 24 meeting, and for telling commissioner Regina Hall that she could not attend a closed session that was to take place later in that scheduled meeting. Commissioner Jeffrey Robertson introduced the resolution, and, along with commissioners Anthony Parker, Kenneth Campbell and Hall, voted in favor of it. Commissioners Michael McBride and Clementine Cone abstained, and Deborah Hudson voted no. There were no recorded votes for Franklin and Fitzgerald.

The closed session at the August meeting was to discuss the bedbug issue, in which Hall has taken an active interest with her brother, Donte’ Hall, living in Chorey Park.

The 4-1 vote to censure was because Fitzgerald, Carnes and Franklin “did conspire to deprive commissioner Regina Hall of her right to attend the closed executive session,” the resolution stated.

Dennis Gray of Accurid was at the board’s August meeting and told them that heat alone would not solve the bedbug issue, and said chemical treatments would also be needed. It could take three to four treatments to get rid of a persistent bedbug problem, he said.

The process to rid Chorey Park of bedbugs “is going to be a long-term project,” Gray told the board.

Robertson has been vocal during recent meetings about the bedbug problems, previously expressing frustration with Carnes because he said she did not provide information he requested about potential bidders to do the bedbug treatment and had accused the housing authority of not following procurement policy, introduced the censure motion. And, following the closed meeting, he also made the motion to award Accurid the contract to complete the bedbug work.

Amy Disel Allman, a managing attorney with Virginia Legal Aid Society representing several Chorey Park residents, including Donte’ Hall, told the board at its last meeting that the bedbug problem had gone on too long, calling the living conditions for the elderly and disabled residents unacceptable.

“We’re out here trying to make sure that the tenants’ rights are represented and that tenants understand what their rights are,” Allman said.

She said she has advised them in areas where the authority has not fully complied with the law in handling the bedbug issue.

“This is not a blame game, this is not a who did what? This is, acknowledge the problem, fix it and move on, and here’s real world solutions on how we do it,” Allman said.

She asked for, and got, a meeting with Snipes and the authority’s Housing Operations Director Michell Layne in which Allman was able to outline the concerns residents had shared with her.

At Monday’s special meeting, Allman addressed the commissioners for about 15 minutes before taking questions from them. She said that the housing authority could either choose to do something about the problem, or she could take it to court. She said she and Legal Aid want to be part of the solution.

“We take cases all day long where we go down to General District Court, we go down to Circuit Court, and we deal with them one by one,” Allman said. “That’s not going to cut it here.”

Allman said in a phone interview Tuesday that the move by the board to bring in Accurid is a beginning.

“Too many residents of Chorey Park have lived in these unacceptable conditions for far too long,” Allman said. “We are pleased that the SRHA board finally voted to take action and treat the entire building. This is a good first step.”

The problem first surfaced in July, when Veronica Hall, Donte’ Hall’s sister, said she and other family members found a Jan. 29 letter from the housing authority in his apartment.

A January inspection found that 35 of Chorey Park’s 100 apartments showed signs of bedbugs. After Suffolk Pest Control chemically treated every apartment, the building had just one unit with a bedbug problem in March, Layne said previously.

The number of apartments with bedbugs fluctuated in June, when there were six. Following a door-to-door survey of every resident in July, 16 residents suspected they had bedbugs, but after an inspection, there were just five with the problem, Layne said. Allman took exception to the door-to-door surveying of residents because she said it would not give an accurate count of the bedbug problem.

Snipes said in July that bedbugs had been a sporadic issue at Chorey Park for about a year, though Allman and others have said it has been two years or more that the apartment complex has had the problem.

Allman also said at least one SRHA employee has been indifferent about the problem and has made condescending comments to residents, telling them, “This is my house. You just live in it.” Snipes took exception to that, as well.

“I didn’t agree with most of it,” Snipes said of Allman’s comments at Monday’s meeting. “Hearing that said about my staff bothers me, because we pride ourselves on really caring about the people that we’re serving. That part was a little painful because I didn’t feel like it was true, and I didn’t want this to become contentious, but I did want to speak up and say that that’s not necessarily the case.”

Allman said Tuesday that she might be inclined to agree with Snipes if she hadn’t heard about the “my house” comment from three separate people. Allman said she told Snipes personally about the comments.

“It’s a struggle, because we want to work with them where we can to get a good resolution,” Allman said.

Allman wants the housing authority to put into place specific policies to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

Snipes, who was not at the August meeting following the death of her mother, said she expects that Accurid would begin its work within the next week, by the commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting next Tuesday.

Snipes said she wasn’t sure how the payments to residents would work.

“I’m going to get some clarification on that,” Snipes said. “My first time hearing it was tonight here.”

As for Allman and Legal Aid’s offer to work with the housing authority?

“I heard the words,” Snipes said. “I heard the words.”