Community takes lead on bed bug control

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Allston-Brighton, the section of Boston known for its ever-changing population of college students, has assumed a leading role in a region-wide effort to prevent and control bed bug infestations.

Working with Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, the nonprofit Allston-Brighton Community Development Corporation channels state funds to reimburse landlords for extermination services and to cover costs incurred by tenants who need to replace infested mattresses.

The efforts in Allston-Brighton led to the creation of the Greater Boston Bed Bug Task Force, which includes 17 cities, towns and Boston neighborhoods and hosts an annual conference devoted to the problem.

Bed bugs had largely disappeared from Massachusetts until early in this decade. Although the blood-sucking insects do not carry disease, their bites can be painful, and the bugs are notoriously difficult to eradicate. As Kate Jordan, the Community Development Corporation’s open space community organizer, points out, when people move out of an infested apartment, the bed bugs typically survive to afflict new tenants.

Jordan said she first learned of the presence of the pests while providing housing counseling to Allston-Brighton residents in 2001 and 2002. The Community Development Corporation brought the problem to the attention of Rep. Kevin Honan, and in 2004 the Legislature began earmarking $25,000 a year to bed bug control efforts in the neighborhood.

Allston-Brighton remains the only community in Massachusetts to receive such aid, though the Greater Boston Bed Bug Task Force is advocating for funding for other cities and towns.

Each September, as students are moving in, the city offers free inspections of apartments in Allston-Brighton and two other neighborhoods. Volunteers place orange warning stickers on abandoned furniture as a means of discouraging incoming tenants from claiming a couch or chairs that may be infested.

Data showing a substantial drop in bed bug infestations in Allston-Brighton is not readily available, but Jordan cited a number of signs that suggest improvement, including a decrease in abandoned furniture that has to be tagged. Jordan said landlords, who must attend a workshop to qualify for reimbursement for extermination costs, are paying more attention to what’s getting dragged into their buildings and are showing “more willingness to do what it takes.”

Written by MMA Associate Editor Mitch Evich