Bed bugs being evicted from Greater Sudbury housing — but it's costing big bucks

In the battle against bed bugs, one Northern Ontario housing authority says it's winning the war — but it's taking a big bite out of the budget, and some tenants are still itching for more to be done.

Social housing corporation went from spending about $7500 on bed bugs in 2006 to roughly $100,000 last year

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      In the battle against bed bugs, one Northern Ontario housing authority says it's winning the war — but it's taking a big bite out of the budget, and some tenants are still itching for more to be done.  

      The Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation (GSHC) manages 1848 subsidized housing units spread over 272 properties in the city.

      With about 450 move-ins and move-outs in a year, CEO Mark Scarfone said it's a challenge to keep up with new bed bug cases. At any given time, he said there's an infestation under management in about 2 per cent of the corporation's units — and that pest management isn't cheap.

      Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation CEO Mark Scarfone says increasingly, bed bug treatment is eating into his maintenance budget. (Jessica Pope/CBC Sudbury )

      Scarfone said when the first bed bug case was reported to GSHC in 2006, the bill for eradication that year was about $7500.  For the last three years, he said the corporation has averaged $100,000 a year in bed bug costs — and it's on track to spend that again in 2016. 

      On a total maintenance budget of $2.3 million a year, Scarfone acknowledged that bed bugs do indeed bite.  

      "[But], to ignore it is just not responsible," he said. 

      'They're just chasing the bugs'

      But, some people told CBC News they feel like they're in a fight against the bugs — and the landlord. 

      Daniella Stevens lived in one of the GSHC's social housing high rises as a kid. Her grandma still lives there, and Stevens wants her to move. 

      Daniella Stevens grew up in Rumball Terrace, a high rise managed by the Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation. Her grandmother still lives there, and Stevens says the GSHC isn't doing enough to get rid of bed bugs in the building. (Jessica Pope/CBC)

      "They're just chasing the bugs from one floor to another," said Stevens. "Every day, [my grandma's] like, 'This friend has a notice, they have to come and spray their unit, that friend has a notice.'"

      Stevens said she doesn't understand why all of the units aren't evacuated and treated at once. She said she wants them to stop "spot treating" the problem. 

      Dan Saumur is the manager of Maintenance Services with the Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation. He says for almost 10 years, he's been refining a strategy to deal with bed bugs in GSHC's 1848 units. (Jessica Pope/CBC Sudbury )

      But, with no place to put tenants and no budget to evacuate a couple of thousand people, GSHC has let loose Dan Saumur, effectively now the its de facto bed bug czar.

      For the last decade or so, Saumur has been the authority on bed bugs in Greater Sudbury's social housing — so much so, that a plan he helped to develop is now being shared with other housing authorities around the province, including those in Thunder Bay, Kenora and North Bay, Ont. 

      His elaborate plan of attack includes high-tech bed bug detectors, coordinated multi-floor bed bug sweeps, precision-timed extermination schedules, and even brand new, segregated laundry rooms exclusively to deal with the pests.

      "This program is effective and it does work," said Saumur.  

      Watch a video of Saumur demonstrating one of the tools in his bed bug arsenal: a $400 machine — GSHC owns 24 of them — that detects the pests by mimicking human breath. 

      The Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation has geared-up in the battle against bed bugs. In this video, learn how special detectors are helping maintenance teams figure out if bed bugs are hiding in a home. 0:55


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