Bugging-Out at Wilbur Peck. When Housing Authority and Tenant Don’t See Eye to Eye

Cock roaches behind the baseboard, Feb. 24, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

Cock roaches behind a kitchen baseboard at Wilbur Peck, Feb. 24, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

This week was an upsetting day for Chelsea Squire, who lives in Greenwich’s Wilbur Peck with her children. Wilbur Peck, built in 1953, is financed by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  On Wednesday morning, Ms. Squire peeled back the plastic baseboard under her kitchen sink and behind her stove because she had a hunch that that was where the cockroaches in her apartment live.

Ms. Squire said that last week, the Greenwich Housing Authority visited her during a complex-wide inspection of 110 units for bed bugs and cock roaches, and planned to return to exterminate on Thursday (Feb. 25). She said she didn’t expect it to solve her main complaint, which is a cockroach infestation, though she has other complaints.

cockroaches in Chelsea Squire's apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Cockroach infestation in Chelsea Squire’s apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Cockroach infestation in Chelsea Squire's apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Chelsea Squire’s apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Ms. Squire, who called in to the radio show of Housing Authority board chair Sam Romeo on Feb. 18 to ask for help, started to list her issues, including lack of hot water and occasional brown water coming up into her bathtub, mold on ceilings, bed bugs, and cock roaches. She said her oldest son was allergic to the cockroaches and has been sick.

Mr. Romeo interrupted her and said the call was a set-up.

He said that during the inspection, the Housing Authority of Greenwich was pleasantly surprised at how lovely most of the apartments were. He said deputy director Terry Mardula had photographed apartments with his iPhone and shared them.

“I want to give a heart felt shout out to the residents of Wilbur Peck,” Romeo said. Based on the photos Mr. Mardula shared, Mr Romeo said, “I think they belong in House & Garden Magazine. I was amazed how well kept the units are.  The Executive Director is coming up with a good housekeeping award!”

Fast forward to Feb. 24. Ms Squire invited Greenwich Free Press to see what was behind the baseboards: A lot of cockroaches, feces and eggs. She also shared a look at mold in the bathroom and cracked plaster in several places.

Reached by phone, Michael Long in the Greenwich Health Dept, offered to send someone over to in short order to meet with Ms. Squire.

HATG executive director Anthony Johnson offered to share copies of Ms. Squire’s lengthy work order history, and said the problems were the fault of the tenant.

For her part, Ms. Squire said the Housing Authority had been sending exterminators for years, but that the bugs live inside the walls. She said for years exterminators had been leaving “gels” that never completely get rid of the bugs.

good housekeeping

An example of one of the many apartments where Mr. Johnson said tenants were good housekeepers, and had no cock roaches.

In Mr. Johnson’s HATG office on Milbank Ave, he shared a stack of color photos of apartment interiors at Wilbur Peck citing them as examples of good housekeeping. Of one particular photo, which he noted is adjacent to Ms. Squire’s, he said the tenants were good house keepers and hadn’t reported bugs.

All the photos appeared to have fresh paint, nice furnishings, decorative objects and curtains. One had a new tile backsplash over the kitchen sink. Others appear to have new stoves and floors. Mr. Johnson said the appliances were simply cleaner, not new.

“We did a special inspection based on only one complaint,” Mr. Johnson said. “We inspected 107 of 110 apartments.


Cockroaches in a trap in Chelsea Squire’s apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

“It’s the people,” he insisted, adding that Ms. Squire was providing the bugs a “food source” because there was grease on her stove.

“We inspect our units every year,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that Ms.Squire’s apartment has been exterminated twice a month since 2012. Laura Murphy, a HATG intake and wait list specialist, and Teryl Elliot, an Asset Manager at Wilbur Peck, were present, as well as secretary, Lisette Contreras.

“Most of the things are tenant created,” Mr. Johnson said, referring to Ms. Squire’s work order history. “Clogged drains, clogged toilets,” he said, pointing to a single spaced list of work orders. “She never mentioned cock roaches in any work order,” Mr. Johnson said.

He said the HATG, through Orkin had applied a gel on the 18th, and that the gel is applied with an applicator. He said they also left behind trap in the kitchens and bathroom.

mold and peeling ceiling in bathroom

Bathroom in Chelsea Squire’s apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

“People have to be responsible and clean their apartments if there is an attractive source of food in an apartment, the treatment would not matter. We don’t have that problem in every unit. It is localized,” Mr. Johnson said.

“The other units nearby don’t have any roaches,” Mr. Johnson continued. “You refuse to recognize that people live differently.”

“We are going to take out all the base boards and if there is a problem with the floor we’ll take that out and remove it,” he said, adding that if the units are not clean enough – for example, if the stove has grease on it, or the baseboards under the cabinets are dirty –  that equates to a food source for the roaches to eat.

“We want to do the right thing. But we are not going to take responsibility to clean someone’s unit for them.”

Mr. Johnson said it’s important to note that when tenants leave mattresses by the dumpsters, that is illegal dumping. He said, just like any other resident in town, residents are responsible for taking their discarded mattresses to Holly Hill, but they don’t always do that. He said the mattresses left at the dumpsters were not from people being evicted, because they hadn’t evicted anyone in two years, though some tenants asked to leave for non-payment of rent, might move out rather than face eviction.

“We work with people to save them. We work with social services. We put people on payment plans above and beyond what we are required to do,” Mr. Johnson said. “This is not a concentration camp. People are free to come and go, and say what they want to say.”

Bathroom in Chelsea Squire's apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Bathroom in Chelsea Squire’s apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Teryl Elliot said she had inspected 40 apartments and found three cases of roaches. She said that the units with roaches were cluttered and unkempt.

At the end of the meeting Mr. Johnson said there are plans to redo all the bathrooms in Wilbur Peck, including replacing the walls, toilets and tubs. He said bathrooms will all get fans installed, which currently they do not have. “We’re going to do a test unit very soon,” he said, adding that the HATG has spent millions of dollars on the units, including new windows, a new roof, new boiler system and basketball court.

Jumping to the Armstrong Court renovation, and the funding that did not come through, Mr. Johnson said, “They don’t put their money into a place where there is friction from the stories being printed.”

Bathroom in Chelsea Squire's apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Bathroom ceiling in Chelsea Squire’s apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Plaster in Chelsea Squire's apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

Cracking plaster in Chelsea Squire’s apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

roaches 3

Kitchen in Chelsea Squire’s apartment at Wilbur Peck Feb. 24, 2016

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  • Anthony L. Johnson, HATG Executive Director

    Response to yesterday’s visit to Ms. Squire’s apartment regarding her complaint of infestation. As you know, we visited the unit last week and treated the unit for insects. During that inspection the unit was not properly prepared for effective treatment, however it was performed anyway. A follow-up treatment was scheduled at that same time with instructions on how to prepare for the proper and effective treatment. That preparation was not performed by the tenant.

    Today HATG had, exclusively for this complaint, two exterminators and three maintenance workers at Ms. Squire’s apartment prepared to perform a detailed extermination and other work as necessary. As you can see, the tenant was not prepared. This is a common occurrence with some tenants which leads to ineffective and repeated treatments that are costly and unnecessary if the proper cooperation is obtained.

    We will continue to work with Ms. Squire, but preparation and cooperation is essential.

  • Angel Perez

    Stop blaming tenants and take responsibility GHA. Roach issues in the Peck were always a problem ya’ll know this, ya’ll rude slum lords bullies. This is unhealthy and this place been done falling apart. Ya’ll should be ashamed to call this housing in Greenwich. You expect to see these conditions in NYC not Greenwich. Shame on you and the town for allowing this all these years.

  • Sue Smith

    I am thrilled to see someone is speaking up! As for housing, if your mission is to “provide the opportunity to live in quality” housing
    why for years, as a tenant I know the scoops, have there been constant issues and complications with infestations from mice, roaches and bed bugs. Prior to the new boiler installation we were out of hot water for nearly not one but two weeks! I am not making this up! Even after the boiler installation, (thank you) we STILL continue to have cold water or lukewarm water on several days out of the week. This is “quality housing” in Greenwich? It is inhumane and I will side with every tenant who is dealing with the same issues. As tenants, majority of us being of low-socioeconomic status, there is only so much we can say and do for our words to have any value in making a difference for our quality living conditions. Anytime we have an opportunity to speak up we are combatted against by housing authority officials who on the spectrum of racial, ethnic and economic background have clearly more authority and whose opinion is valued far more than those who are seen as the greater less in society. Therefore, whatever the situation may be we are constrained by our helplessness. Numerous times I have battled with housing, time after time but the outcomes have always been in favor of housing not the powerless/hopeless tenant who is in need.