Investigations

The city’s largest public housing complex failed its third consecutive federally mandated inspection last month, and local officials are now under pressure to make needed repairs.

Inspectors found exposed wires, leaky pipes, clogged drains, peeling paint, broken doors and locks, missing sprinklers, roaches and more after assessing 26 units at Dosker Manor, which houses nearly 700 elderly and disabled residents.

The inspection is required annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The inspector projected that, if the entire complex had been inspected, nearly 1,000 health and safety deficiencies would have been found, according to public records obtained through an open records request.

“This is a property that’s got some serious challenges and trouble,” said Joe Phillips, spokesman for the southeast region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If repairs aren’t made, Phillips said the federal agency “can and will take action to make sure those residents are taken care of.”

Lisa Osanka, the interim executive director of the LMHA, said the agency has “fallen short.” But she stressed she’s committed to improving Dosker Manor where residents have long complained of poor conditions.

For proof, she pointed to the recent inspection, which earned a score of 58 two points short of passing, yet higher than previous scores of 39 and 29 issued in October and March of 2017.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” she said.

Osanka is also pledging to allocate more than $8.9 million during the next five years to replace water lines and trash compactors, upgrade security features and complete a host of other needed repairs at the complex.

Phillips said the repairs are critical to avoid federal intervention. He declined to speculate on what that would mean.

“We will hold them accountable,” Phillips said.

‘No active bedbugs’?

A KyCIR investigation earlier this year found the complex was infested with bedbugs. Residents in nearly half of all the complex’s units had complained about the bugs in the last two and a half years — and many did so repeatedly, yet the bugs remained.

Two months after KyCIR’s report, housing authority officials responded by making an array of changes with the hope of improving the conditions at the troubled complex: new technologies, staffing changes and outside consulting.

But the bedbugs remain, according to residents and public records.

Between June and September, the housing authority processed nearly 200 work orders requesting treatment or checkups on bedbug issues, according to records provided by the housing authority.

Despite this, the most recent inspection noted “no active bedbugs” at Dosker Manor. Neither the housing authority or HUD directly addressed whether someone claimed the bedbugs have been eradicated.

Osanka of the housing authority said she’s “not able to speculate on why the HUD Inspector typed this comment.”

Osanka said she wasn’t present for the inspection, even though the report listed her as present.

Phillips, the HUD spokesman, said the inspector was told by the property manager at Dosker Manor that the units with bedbug issues “had been treated.”

Dosker’s property manager, Sharon Cofield, declined comment.

Phillips said “it’s obvious Dosker Manor has a bedbug problem, absolutely.”

“Apparently there needs to be more work done to address it,” he said.

Osanka said the housing authority is continuing its effort to combat the persistent bugs.

“I don’t think anyone can ever get rid of them all,” she said.

David Allen, a Dosker Manor resident for nine years, said it’s “100 percent true” that the complex remains infested with bedbugs, as well as roaches and mice.

Allen said he spends about $40 each month on sprays and powders to try to kill the bugs. The bites wake him up and night and pester him and his visitors when they’re just trying to relax and watch television.

“It’s humiliating,” Allen said. “How can you get used to something just biting on you all the time?”

Paul Bello, a Georgia-based pest control expert, was hired by the housing authority to examine the complex. He said he introduced the housing authority’s extermination team to proven and critical strategies and techniques for bedbug eradication during his recent visit.

Bello said the infestation at Dosker Manor wasn’t the worst he’d seen in his career, but it is significant.

“Pest control is a journey, not a destination,” he said. “The bugs will never be gone forever. There will always be reintroduction.”

Michelle Hanks | wfpl.org

David Allen stands outside of his apartment building with other residents at Dosker Manor. Allen is one of many residents who says his apartment is infested with bedbugs. He has lived in Dosker Manor for nine years.

Experts: Bedbug Problems Common In Dense Housing

Housing experts say the issues that plague Dosker Manor aren’t necessarily unique.

“The public housing stock across the country is facing these types of challenges,” said Sue Popkin, the director of the Urban Institute’s Housing Opportunities and Services Together initiative.

Dosker Manor is an old building and its poor condition is, in part, a reflection of that, she said.

A lack of federal funding makes it difficult for housing authorities to pay for needed repairs, Popkin said — and it’s unlikely funding levels will increase in the future.

“It’s a real concern for the industry,” she said.

Federal officials rarely intervene with a local entity unless there is a pattern of systemic issues, mismanagement, fraud or abuse, said Jenny Schuetz, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

The Louisville Metro Housing Authority has a history of support from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. Past grant programs helped with the redevelopment of projects like Clarksdale and Sheppard Square. And, more recently, the housing authority was awarded a $30 million grant to aid in the rebuilding of the Beecher Terrace complex just west of downtown.

This speaks well for the reputation of the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, Schuetz said.

“Generally, they’re perceived as a pretty good performer,” she said of the housing authority. “They probably get a little more time to resolve this.”

Still, Schuetz said tenants of Dosker Manor have the right to expect better.

“They should be upset,” she said. “They’re relying on HUD to provide them with decent, quality housing.”

Some issues noted in the recent inspection have been remedied, like the exposed wires. And more than two dozen work orders have been submitted for other issues like broken stoves and light fixtures, according to documents obtained through an open records request.

But some residents, like Allen, say there’s plenty of work still to be done.

“Bugs, bugs, bugs,” he said. “It’s aggravating, annoying, tiresome.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.