“Bedbugs suck” was the mantra on the steps of City Hall Thursday, where District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim presented new legislation to help the Department of Public Health cope with the city’s bedbug problem.
Kim said that when she first began campaigning for supervisor two years ago and was going door-to-door to speak to potential constituents, one of the most pressing issues in and around the Tenderloin was the bedbug infestation.
“I heard traumatizing stories from residents [who] had experienced it in their rooms and residences and how it emotionally affected their living experience,” said Kim.
Kim’s new legislation, which is cosponsored by District 9 Supervisor David Campos, has three main parts, she said.
The first requires the city to provide clear and accessible information on how to properly abate bedbugs and on the roles and responsibilities of landlords, tenants and pest control operators.
The second would mandate that property owners disclose to prospective tenants a two-year record of bedbug issues upon request, and the third would require exterminators to report how often they are treating for bedbugs, and in what general areas.
“This information will be used to manage our response both in prioritizing the neighborhood where the infestation seems to be increasing and prioritizing our limited staff resources where the need is,” said Kim.
Currently there are only two bedbug inspectors who inspect single-room-occupancy (SRO) in the city, said Karen Cohn, the health department’s children’s health program manager, who spoke in favor of the proposed legislation. Because the new ordinance will require an increased presence by inspectors, Cohn requested that the city hire another inspector to help meet the increased demand.
Kym Meadows was one of many who shared their stories with the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee members Kim, Campos and Supervisor Mark Farrell.
“For weeks I would wake up every night covered from head to toe with bites in creepy horrible places you don’t want to think about,” said Meadows, who has lived in a Mission SRO for five years.
The SRO hasn’t had bedbugs since January but because Meadows made the initial bedbug complaint to the property manager, she said, he blamed her for bringing the bugs into the building. “I got stigmatized automatically,” said Meadows.
The stigma associated with bedbugs sometimes makes people reluctant to report infestations in their rooms and apartments, Cohn said. This only compounds the problem, giving the bugs more time to reproduce and spread to other units, she said.
“If you tell a friend you have cockroaches, they probably won’t avoid coming over to visit, but if you tell them you have bedbugs you probably aren’t going to see that friend at your house for a while,” said Cohn.
Although bedbugs don’t discriminate in terms of who they affect, the population with most persistent bedbug problems are low-income residents, Kim said.
“Oftentimes the abatement hasn’t effectively taken place in our low-income communities, and that’s where this legislation will help ensure where abatement will happen,” she said.
With over 2,000 SRO units in the Mission and thousands more in the Tenderloin and Chinatown, this new legislation could make a big difference in the city’s approach to bedbug abatement, said Josh Vining, an organizer with the Mission SRO Collaborative.
Because the new ordinance will require pest control operators to report the number of bedbug infestations they treat, the health department will be able to better quantify the bedbug problem and apply resources as needed, said Vining.
Following testimony from approximately a dozen city residents affected by bedbugs, the Rules Committee voted unanimously in favor of the legislation, which now will be forwarded to the full Board of Supervisors.
The full board must vote on the legislation twice in the upcoming weeks. If it passes, it will become law 30 days after the mayor signs it, said Matthias Mormino, a legislative aide to Kim.