published Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Chattanooga's Patten Towers fighting bedbugs

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    Some people in Patten Towers are complaining about bed bugs.
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite.

A year after a fire left residents of Patten Towers displaced for a month and led to the discovery of seemingly unending problems at their building, some say that childhood expression is nothing but a dream for them.

Despite efforts by PK Management -- overseers of Patten Towers -- to eradicate the bedbugs through third-party chemical spraying, the issue persists for many who contend that the efforts to address the problem have been fruitless.

Meanwhile, PK Management says that defeating bedbugs requires a team effort that must include work by residents to prepare for spraying.

Patten Towers is more than 100 years old and houses close to 250 people, nearly all of whom are poor, disabled or elderly and receive government assistance to pay their rent.

Most residents say that conditions at the building are not ideal but at least somewhat better than they were before the May 2013 basement fire that prompted Mayor Andy Berke's office to pressure building owners into making improvements.

So far in 2014 there have been 38 false smoke detector activations compared to 55 at this point last year, and 32 alarm system activations compared to 55, a city spokeswoman said Friday.

To one resident who moved in after the summer mayhem, though, plenty of issues remain and humanitarian-type issues like the creepy critters are first and foremost.

"The bedbugs are still present [and] residents are told they have to get rid of their furniture and many have been forced to do this and are left with nothing, sleeping on the floor with no beds or furniture," wrote one man who asked to remain anonymous because he fears eviction.

In the letter he also listed other nuisances that residents have experienced, including an apparent mandate that all service animals be carried through the lobby regardless of their owner's physical ability to do so, spotty air conditioning in common areas, an elevator that is frequently broken and guidelines stating what types of clothes residents can wear.

And residents who question policies are scared into compliance by remarks like, "This is the way things are, and if you don't follow the rules you could be evicted," he said.

Seventh-floor resident David Elliott, 58, is no stranger to those ultimatums. After deciding to confront the bedbug problem in his apartment recently, he received a letter saying that failure to complete a to-do list before the sprayers came might constitute a lease violation that could lead to eviction.

A checklist requires that residents thoroughly clean their apartments, move furniture and wash, dry and bag their clothes in preparation for spraying. For some physically disabled residents on fixed incomes, those things can be difficult, he said.

But Elliott, who is physically fit, decided to do everything exactly as told. The results have been good, he said, and he wants to unite residents and show them how to fix the problem instead of just complaining about it.

"It's beginning to become a brother's keeper neighborhood type of neighborhood now, but it's a process, and it's a process of engaging everybody into the process," he said. "You've got to be patient with people, and we're learning to be patient with each other as well as being patient with management."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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