Dana Natale, manager, McCarthy Manor
Ms Natale was an exemplary manager. Her job put her in the middle between HUD, with its enormous load of regulations and ever-increasing number of forms to be filled out, and 176 tenants, almost all of whom are disabled, poor, old, emotionally unhealthy and not very bright. I think it’s an awful job but Dana handled it with grace and efficiency. She was kind and whenever there was wiggle room in any situation, she would decide in favor of the tenants.
Now, Dana is abrupt, secretive and withdrawn. Some tenants think it is because she has a mild case of multiple sclerosis but the MS is not new. I think that Dana’s extreme change in behavior is a result of the new owner, Related Management’s, corporate attitude.
In 2014, she shut down the Community Room. When I asked why, she snapped, “Because I said so.” The talk going around the building was that she’d shut it down because
(a) A tenant had died there; in fact, he’d died in his apartment.
(b) “One of the schizophrenics” was throwing feces.
(c) Homeless people were sleeping there at night.
In fact, the Community Room had been shut down so they could spray for bedbugs. Had I been told that, I would have shrugged and said, “Oh, okay,” knowing that Dana was on top of the situation and taking care of business.
McCarthy Manor’s Bedbugs
McCarthy Manor’s policy was that after you load all your belongings on a moving van and before you unload them at McCarthy Manor, the van has to be fumigated. It’s a good plan.
The bed bug problem at McCarthy Manor may have started with a tenant who had an adult tricycle with a big basket on the back. He rode the streets and picked up various articles from the curb where they’d been deposited for trash pick-up. He may have been bringing in the bedbugs and distributing them around the building.
Bed bugs have been with the human race forever but between 1930 and 1980 they largely had been wiped out by the use of DDT. In 1939 Paul Hermann Muller got the Nobel Prize for DDT; since its ban in 1972 there has been a comeback of the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and common bed bug. Between 2000 and 2005, the incidence of bed bugs increased 71%.
It became a national problem and a national television network did a story on it around 2010. A McCarthy Manor tenant saw the story, called the local station, and McCarthy Manor—which probably was no better and no worse than any other local property—found itself in the news.
Dana, the manager, knew she had a problem and was dealing with it as best she could. Among other things, she had a pesticide company on retainer. If you reported a bug problem to the management office, within about 48 hours your apartment would be visited by the pest patrol. The problem, as Dana explained it, was that tenants were not self-reporting.
The working theory is that tenants would not self-report because they were ashamed: they thought that some uncleanliness on their part had caused the bed bugs to infiltrate their apartments. In fact, bed bugs are not drawn to sugar, grease, or any kind of filth in your apartment or on your body. Bed bugs only want blood: the little bastards are coming after you. The reason they are called “bed” bugs is because every night they can count on finding you laying still in bed for eight hours, where they crawl all over you and suck your blood.
In warm weather it is really easy to tell who has bed bugs: you ride the elevator and notice who’s riding with you wearing short sleeves and has red spots on their arms. You’d be surprised at how many people get nasty when you—only meaning to commiserate—comment on their bed bug bites.
Anyway, the bed bug problem remained out of control until Dana announced that the pest control company would inspect every apartment every four months. There were no exceptions or exemptions. Management took over, started on the eighth floor and worked their way down. On the first inspection, about 75% of the apartments were found to have bugs of one sort or another. The pest control company was in here twice a week until they got the problems under control.
Periodically I would ask Dana how many apartments were infested and she would reply “five” or maybe “seven.” Seven out of 176 is excellent and as good as it’s ever going to get. For example, some 80-year-old has accumulated a lifetime of treasures and has them all jammed in a little two-room apartment. The pest control company cannot get into all the nooks and crannies to spray. You get a social worker involved, family if there is any, and work slowly and steadily to get the apartment clean. What else can you do? Throw the old man out on the street? Sure, Dana had the authority to evict any tenant who wouldn’t work with her, but she wasn’t that kind of woman. Eviction was way down at the end of a long road.
What happened most recently was that an old man got bed bugs and didn’t report them. Then he was hospitalized for some unrelated reason. Without him for their nighttime feeding, the bed bugs started moving to other apartments on his hallway. Other tenants, not knowing they were carrying bed bugs, would go sit in the Community Room and deposit the bed bugs there.
Dana moved aggressively to clean the bed bugs out of the sixth floor apartments and the Community Room. The Community Room was kept closed for several days in order to break the cycle of bed bugs being circulated. All of this was sensible and sufficient. What made no sense at all was Dana snapping at me that the Community Room was closed “Because I said so.” The treatment of bed bugs had ceased to be a reasonable scientific process and had become about one person’s rude use of power.
Except that later Dana told me that she had been told by Related Management that she was not to mention the bed bug problem. Instead, the tenants’ rumors about death, feces and homeless sleep-overs were to go unchecked. Related would not let the manager speak truth to the tenants.