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Pests have taken over this TCHC building in East York, but residents are fighting back

80-year-old Sharron MacPherson has lived at 444 Lumsden Ave. for 20 years. She says infestations have been an ongoing problem, and she wants TCHC to put a stop to the pests once and for all.   (Mike Smee/CBC - image credit)
80-year-old Sharron MacPherson has lived at 444 Lumsden Ave. for 20 years. She says infestations have been an ongoing problem, and she wants TCHC to put a stop to the pests once and for all. (Mike Smee/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains some graphic images showing pests

A group of Toronto Community Housing residents in East York say they're fed up with living with rodents and bugs, and they're demanding the social housing agency tackle the problem.

Housing advocacy group ACORN launched a campaign earlier this month to highlight tenant complaints about pest infestations at 444 Lumsden Ave. that have been ongoing for years.

"We're frustrated with TCHC not doing their jobs. Especially when it comes to all the pests that we got - mice, rats, bedbugs, cockroaches," building resident and ACORN member Kelly Lalande said in a press release.

"They should mandate a bi-annual inspection, but not just within the common areas," she said. "Conduct inspections in the units."

Lumsden Avenue resident and ACORN member Kelly Lalande says TCH should be doing more frequent unit inspections to help keep pests at bay.
Lumsden Avenue resident and ACORN member Kelly Lalande says TCH should be doing more frequent unit inspections to help keep pests at bay.

Lumsden Avenue resident and ACORN member Kelly Lalande says TCHC should be doing more frequent unit inspections to help keep pests at bay. (Mike Smee/CBC)

In a statement, TCHC spokesperson Kim Moser told CBC Toronto that the agency already makes regular pest control visits to treat individual units. She said the agency inspects all common areas weekly.

"The health, safety and well-being of tenants is a top priority for TCHC," said Moser, adding that staff are working with the tenants and ACORN to address bed bug concerns.

It's not the first time residents of the building have experienced problems. In an interview, Lalande told CBC Toronto that the pest issue has been ongoing "for years."

The city-run agency maintains the issues are not related to the city's financial problems. Toronto is facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall this year and has already taken steps to close that gap by increasing some taxes and fees. Budget documents released this week also revealed a state of good repair backlog that's expected to grow from $10.6 billion to $22.7 billion by 2033.

Citywide, pest control agents preventatively treat common areas on a monthly basis and make weekly visits to tenants who need help, Moser said, noting that treatments are only done once a tenant has OK'd a unit visit.

TCHC "has a designated day during the week for treatments," according to Moser, who said "all units surrounding the impacted unit are treated as a preventative measure."

But Lumsden residents say more needs to be done now.

Sasha Shashkova says she's currently in the midst of yet another spraying treatment.  "Roaches, bedbugs, mice - I had maggots for a little while," she says.
Sasha Shashkova says she's currently in the midst of yet another spraying treatment. "Roaches, bedbugs, mice - I had maggots for a little while," she says.

Sasha Shashkova says she's currently in the midst of yet another spraying treatment. 'Roaches, bedbugs, mice. I had maggots for a little while,' she said. (Dean Gariepy/CBC)

Residents showed CBC Toronto pictures of bedbug infestations and cockroaches, as well as evidence of rodents — even maggots.

Twenty-year resident Sharron MacPherson, 80, said she's seen "dozens" of bedbugs on hallway walls beside an infested apartment on her floor whose residents moved out last June.

When pest control experts treated the unit, MacPherson said they asked her to witness the extent of the infestation.

"The mattress was covered with blood from people being bitten," she said, adding that there were "two people who lived there who were disabled."

MacPherson said she now treats her unit with anti-insect spray as a preventative measure, rather than relying on TCHC. But she worries about residents who can't.

"Most tenants in here don't have the capacity, don't have the money, and a lot of them are ashamed to admit they have bed bugs," she said.

Resident Sasha Shashkova said she's in the midst of her second spraying treatment in four years.

"Roaches, bedbugs, mice; I had maggots for a little while," she said. "I don't know where they're coming from."

Photos taken inside tenants' apartments at 444 Lumsden Ave. show some of the roaches, bedbugs and maggots that have made a home in the building.
Photos taken inside tenants' apartments at 444 Lumsden Ave. show some of the roaches, bedbugs and maggots that have made a home in the building.

Photos taken inside tenants' apartments at 444 Lumsden Ave. show some of the roaches, bedbugs and maggots that have made a home in the building. (ACORN)

Shashkova wants the problem solved once and for all.

"This has been borderline ridiculous," she said. "I just want my home back."

Lalande said pest control treatments are an ongoing event in the building, and infestations are never completely solved.

"At times I just throw my hands up and say enough is enough," she said. "It never ends."

Lalande said her unit is not currently infested "but I know that next year or later on this year it will be infested again."

Moser said residents can help TCHC by participating in the pest control process, including "allowing staff and third-party bed bug specialists into units for treatments, preparing units for treatments and making individual choices about housekeeping within units."

Prepping an apartment for spraying can involve clearing out all cabinets in the unit and moving furniture away from walls, Lalande said, and many residents are older and have trouble moving furniture out of the way to allow for a thorough pest control treatment.

Rodents - and their droppings - are among the problems reported by residents at TCH's   444 Lumsden Ave. building.
Rodents - and their droppings - are among the problems reported by residents at TCH's 444 Lumsden Ave. building.

Rodents, and their droppings, are among the many pest problems reported by residents at 444 Lumsden Ave. (ACORN)

TCHC should provide staff who can make sure a tenant's unit is properly prepared for a treatment, Lalande said.

"They should have people willing to help in that situation."