It began with a memo from the apartment building manager dated October 10 that said “Until further notice, the Community Room will be closed when the office is closed.” No explanation was given except “absolutely necessary . . . health and safety. . .” The manager used to be Ms Friendly but she’s become short-tempered and snappish lately. She doesn’t reply to complaints or hold any town meetings, so the tenants get pretty upset about this kind of thing. It’s our home; we’d like to know what’s going on.
The Community Room is used a lot because our apartments are only 540 square feet—about the size of a two-car garage—and most of us are too sick and/or disabled to go outside, nevertheless, and we need to get out of our tiny apartments, of which there are 176. The Community Room contains exercise equipment and two pool tables that the men use a lot in the evenings. It also has a television and sofas that are used by people who can’t afford Time Warner service in their apartment. Of the 176 tenants, 91% are disabled. All of them are poor, mostly having the basic Social Security income of $834/month. Old women gather around the tables to talk. What a crisis! Nowhere to gather to talk! We generally do not go to other people’s apartments or invite other people to ours because of the bed bug situation.
About three years ago, we were inundated with an epidemic of bed bugs. Management had a pest control service on retainer but tenants failed to self-identify when they had bed bugs. Management couldn’t get control of the situation until it took charge and started top-to-bottom inspections of every apartment on a regular basis. The pest company found that 75% of the apartments had bugs of one sort or another. All affected apartments were sprayed every three or four days. Now, we are down to about 9% infestation, which is about five out of 176. This is about as good as you can get. But we have learned not to visit each other. Your neighbor comes in, sits on your sofa for fifteen minutes, and the next thing you know you have to buy a mattress cover, launder all your clothes, take all your winter things to the dry cleaner—and you don’t have the money or the energy to do it. So you visit in the Community Room, where it is management’s job to keep the bugs out.
But now the Community Room is closed, so we want to know why. You shouldn’t punish an entire community for some wrongful act of just one or a few people. And what about the Wednesday evening dinner served by a local church? It’s the only nice community thing that happens here, but it starts at 5:30 p.m. and the office closes at 4:30 p.m. Is the weekly dinner shut down, too? We want to know! We want answers! We are people, not bed bugs, and people need information in order to make decisions about their lives.
The manager refuses to provide any information, including the name and contact information for her supervisor, so we ask each other what happened. Answers come back:
- The man from apartment 513 died in the Community Room.
- A woman was ambulanced to the hospital around 10:00 p.m.
- The man in apartment 513 was found dead in his apartment; he’d been dead about three days.
- “One of the schizophrenics” threw feces in the Community Room.
- The man from 513, in a wheelchair, was mugged on the street outside the front entrance.
- The woman with pneumonia called the police around 2:00 a.m. for the man being mugged, but they didn’t come.
- The ambulance came and took the woman to the hospital around 3:00 a.m.
We have been denied the use of a fundamental part of our living space, and we don’t know why. We live in a HUD-subsidized property and there is no requirement for the management company to treat us like mature adults. So, needing answers, we make them up.