Scott Ball / Rivard Report
In what was once a grand hotel visited by the Hollywood elite, health officials and pest control personnel are working to clear a bedbug and roach infestation that the owner says none of the approximate 100 low-income elderly and disabled residents ever reported.
Built in 1930, the neo-gothic Aurora Apartments near Crockett Park and the San Antonio College Tobin Lofts student apartments was designed to be a high-rise apartment-hotel — “a residence of distinction for discriminating people,” according to an ad announcing its grand opening.
But on Tuesday, San Antonio Code Compliance and Metropolitan Health District notified the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office in Fort Worth about an infestation of bedbugs and cockroaches at the privately-owned building. Aurora Apartments is occupied by seniors and disabled persons who receive HUD rental assistance.
“We were informed of the situation on Monday,” said Metro Health spokesperson Carol Schliesinger, who referred all questions to HUD.
The building owner, Mitch Meyer of Loopy Ltd., purchased the Aurora Apartment building in 2007. He said he is complying with a corrective action plan that he estimates is costing him “tens of thousands of dollars,” and will have the infestation cleared within 10 days. He has contracted with Royal Pest Control to perform the work.
About half of the 105 units in the 10-story Aurora Apartments were affected, he said, but Meyer plans to treat the entire building.
“I’m not going to be fooling around with this,” he said. “I don’t want these things back. We went beyond the call of what someone else would do.”
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that landlords treat all adjacent apartment units when an infestation occurs and to actively monitor treated units afterward. Although the common bedbug is not known to transmit or spread disease, the tiny insects do cause itchy bites and irritation and are considered a public health pest. Signs of an infestation include live bedbugs, and reddish stains, dark spots and shed exoskeletons on bedding and furniture.
“There’s not a hotel, not a student housing, not a day care, not a summer camp, not anything that hasn’t dealt with this in some capacity, including me,” Meyer said. “Usually, they are one-offs and you catch it right on time. The main thing is the reporting. If someone has bedbugs, they call the management and say, ‘I need some help,’ and we nail it.
“But in this case, no one reported it. So they just multiplied and multiplied and here we are. It’s a problem. But it’s not a crisis.”
Responding to request for information about resident complaints at the property, HUD spokesperson Patricia Campbell stated in an email that, “according to our compliance contractor, Southwest Housing Compliance Corp., one complaint was filed last September. It alleged a number of problems, including bedbugs. They investigated, and based on information provided by the owner, they closed the complaint. The only other complaint received in 2016 was in March and it was concerning mildew in four apartments.”
Campbell added that the agency is concerned about the health and safety of the residents and will ensure that the problem is resolved.
“Bedbugs cannot be eradicated in one treatment,” she said. “It takes multiple treatments and will be an ongoing process.”
The wait for public housing and assisted housing programs in this city, where the population of low-income seniors is growing, can be four to seven years. As a HUD-subsidized property, the Aurora Apartments are not Section 8 Housing or part of the San Antonio Housing Authority, according to Rosario Neaves, SAHA director of communications. But she added, “There’s a great need for more federal funding for housing here.”
One resident who spoke with the Rivard Report said he hadn’t noticed or heard of the bug problem.
“It’s nice here,” said Robert Estrada, who has lived in his fifth-floor apartment in the building for one year with his two dogs. “They [management] keep it clean. I don’t mind if they come and spray for bugs.”
In the Aurora lobby, where gold art-deco elevator doors and chandeliers recall a different era for the historic structure, a sign on the door explains to residents that bedbug infestations have become common in this country in the past 10 years. It describes how residents can detect them, and urges them to contact property management if they suspect an infestation.
“Please say [in this article] that Mitch wants everyone to know, ‘Don’t accept mattresses and upholstered furniture from someone you don’t know, even if it’s free,’” Meyer said. “I know it’s what happened here. Bedbugs are a problem everywhere. Dallas has a huge problem with bedbugs, huge. But bedbugs aren’t near as bad as lice or fleas.”
On a list of the 50 U.S. cities with the worst bedbug infestation published by Orkin last year, Chicago was first. There were no Texas cities in the top 10.
“It’s not convenient, it’s not fun,” Meyer said. “I certainly don’t like it. But we’re working together and we’re working with the pest control company, we’re working with the City, we’re working with HUD, and the residents. Everybody’s working together.”