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In the last six months, the residents of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA in Shaw have put up with a sudden change in management, threats of eviction, and 54 lawsuits—-most eventually dropped—-for nonpayment of rent . Now the residents of the single-room-occupancy facility—-mostly older disabled and mentally ill women—-are getting eaten alive by bedbugs.
“The whole building is infested,” says Sharon Rhoner, president of the newly formed Phyllis Wheatley Cares Tenants Association and a four-month tenant of the building. Rhoner says tenants have complained about the infestation to city agencies to no avail. Resident Vera Arrington says her bedbugs got so bad, she started treating them with a heavy-duty spray she got from the fire department.
Antonia Mathos, 53, who has lived at Wheatley since 2000, has had frequent complaints about the upkeep of the building. “These people refuse to do needed repairs,” Mathos says, referring to Vision Realty Management, the company that recently took over responsibility for the building.
“Landlords are legally required to keep the building in compliance with the housing code, and it’s not,” says Rebecca Lindhurst, an attorney for nearby non-profit Bread for the City who has represented several tenants.
Sam Lowery, a Vision Realty partner, says his company is aware of the bedbug problem and has hired a pest-control company, but he says it takes everyone’s involvement to kill the bugs. “This is an ongoing problem,” he says. “We’ve asked that the treatment in place be buttressed by the residents with cleanliness and housekeeping.”
Lowery says a list of recommendations was sent out in April that included notes on laundry, vacuuming, and keeping rooms sanitary.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alex Padro says he used to refer women who had no other place to go to the YWCA for temporary housing. Now, he says, he’ll think twice about making any referrals. “The board has abdicated its responsibility,” he says.