The Department of the Environment will re-inspect newly renovated public housing developments like 990 Pacific Ave. in Chinatown, shown here on Sept. 6, 2018, to determine the effectiveness of a pest control program. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Study to determine if rodents and other pests eradicated from rehabbed public housing

Hundreds of units inspected before renovations were infested with cockroaches

The City will soon learn whether its pest control program eradicated the infestation of rodents, bed bugs and cockroaches that plagued hundreds of public housing units to the detriment of tenants’ health.

The program impacting 28 public housing sites was implemented as part of the rehabilitation of the housing units.

Before the rehabs, a pest inspection performed by city-contracted Pestec made some disturbing findings. Among them, a quarter of the units, approximately 875, were infested with cockroaches and 175 were infested with bedbugs.

The evaluation of the Department of the Environment’s Integrated Pest Management program for these sites will be conducted with the help of a $160,651 grant awarded to and just accepted by The City from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

The program evaluation, to run through September 2022, will include unit-by-unit inspections to determine infestation levels compared to the 2015 baseline.

In 2015, The City turned over the 28 public housing sites comprised of nearly 3,500 housing units to private owners, affordable housing developers, under the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program, to rehab the units. They had fallen into poor condition after decades of underinvestment by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As part of the rehabilation, the department worked with the developers and the Mayor’s Office of Housing to recommend pest prevention design elements that can reduce or even eliminate the need for pesticides like toxic rat poison, which is “ubiquitous at public housing sites for addressing rodent infestations,” according to the department’s December 2018 grant application.

“Other hazardous pesticides commonly used in affordable housing include insect foggers, frequently used by residents to control bed bugs or cockroaches,” the application said. “These may pose both asthma and fire risks to occupants.”

The department also educated property managers and residents on how to best deal with pests.

The evaluation now comes after the rehabs are complete and tenants have lived in their renovated units for at least a year. The department has “a full database of 2015 pest infestation levels, clutter, sanitation, and other observations for all 3,495 RAD units,” according to the application.

The evaluation will also determine how well the developers incorporated the recommended pest prevention design elements and judge the pest management practices used by current property managers.

The point of the program is to control pests “with safer, less toxic, and more effective measures,” said Charles Sheehan, a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment.

Prior to the department’s involvement, treatment of pests varied and depended on the property managers at each site, Sheehan said.

“Most of the pest management activities before RAD were based on residents’ complaints or on calendar-based spray treatments, neither of which follow Integrated Pest Management (IPM) best practices,” Sheehan said. He added that spray treatments are largely ineffective and “can also harm humans, pets, and the environment.”

Pests and pesticide use can often trigger or cause asthma, which is more common among residents of low-income communities.

Karen Cohn, an administrator for the Asthma Task Force, wrote a letter in support of the grant to gauge the effectiveness of the “pest-proof design.”

“Asthma has been a ubiquitous problem for both child and adult residents of these sites, and we greatly hope that the renovations will prevent many of the asthma environmental risk factors that previously dominated these sites (mold, dust, cockroach and rodent pest infestations),” Cohn wrote.

The program addressed “structural features of the buildings that contributed to infestations of cockroaches, bedbugs, rodents and other pests.”

“A variety of pest preventive design elements were installed at the RAD projects, and these differ from site to site,” Sheehan said. “For example, refuse rooms were enclosed to exclude rodents, vertical utility races were sealed, escutcheon plates were installed around plumbing breaks, kick plates beneath kitchen cabinets were sealed off to eliminate pest harborage, and modified baseboards were installed.”

The department does not yet know what they will find, but “our expectation is that we will see positive results from both the treatments and technical assistance provided,” Sheehan said.

The study hopes to answer “how effective various pest preventive features are, how much they cost, and whether the increased costs of pest-proofing can be justified by reduced costs in the long term,” the application said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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