Ottawa Community Housing says it has begun hiring its own pest control specialists to deal with bed bug and cockroach infestations at its properties. But some tenants aren't holding their breath the move will make their homes any more liveable.

Lawrence Newcombe

Lawrence Newcombe says efforts to get rid of infestations in his building have all failed. (CBC)

The community housing agency has been fighting a running battle with pests for years, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars every year hiring extermination companies, but tenants keep reporting infestations.

After a pilot project last year OCH says the integrated pest management team swings into action on March 21.

The team has 11 dedicated members, including eight pest management certified workers on the ground responding to calls, says OCH spokesperson Melany Chretien.

The team will continue to be supported by more than 150 OCH maintenance workers as well as outside service providers, Chretien said.

Apartment is 'hell, complete hell,' says tenant

Lawrence Newcombe, a 55-year-old tenant, is skeptical.

"Good luck with that, lets see what happens," he says with a hollow chuckle.

Newcombe's bachelor apartment is in a large, old building at 110 Cobourg St., a place he describes as "hell, complete hell."

Friends and family rarely visit Newcombe because of the pests. Parts of his bed are covered in black dots which he says are bed bugs he's killed. When I asked to use his bathroom, a small cockroach was scampering around the sink.

Newcombe's back is also covered with dark spots and scabs, the result of what he says are "bed bug bites that turn into pimples and re-occurring pimples until you realize what's going on, you know, that you are being eaten alive every night."

Treat whole floors, not units

Ottawa Community Housing has sprayed Newcombe's apartment, but he says it never does much good because the pests just migrate to neighbouring apartments, only to return.

Newcombe's son, Alex, also has doubts the agency's new in-house strategy will make a difference.

Lawrence Newcombe back

Newcombe's back is also covered with dark spots and scabs, the result of what he says are "bed bug bites that turn into pimples and re-occurring pimples." (CBC)

"It seems to me they don't care," said Alex.

Alex Newcombe says he has severe reactions to bed bug bites so he is forced to stay away from the building.

"It's heartbreaking. It really is," he says. "I love my father and I can't visit him almost ever. And I'm worried about having him over to my apartment in case he transmits them here. He visits my grandmother. I'm worried they will be transferred there."

Alex Newcombe is convinced the only way to get rid of bugs is to treat whole floors and even whole buildings.  The spot approach, in his view, has not worked.

Stéphane Giguère, CEO of Ottawa Community Housing, was not available for an interview Wednesday and sent an emailed statement Thursday morning.

"Pest management is a priority and every pest instance is taken seriously. With the upcoming launch of the integrated pest management team, our aim is to reduce occurrences and increase tenant education and support. Tenants and partners play a critical role in effective pest management," Giguère wrote.