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New Policies At Louisville Public Housing Complex Follow KyCIR Investigation

Williams holds a jar where he caught a bedbug he found on his couch the night before.
Michelle Hanks/KyCIR
Williams holds a jar where he caught a bedbug he found on his couch the night before.

City officials are instituting an array of changes in an attempt to improve living conditions at Dosker Manor, a troubled downtown public housing complex with a long-term bedbug infestation.

The changes include new technology systems, an outside extermination consulting contract and codes enforcement inspections. The new policies are aimed at bringing more oversight and accountability to Dosker Manor, a 700-unit complex alongside Interstate 65 that houses elderly and disabled residents.

The changes come two months after a report from The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, which found the complex was infested with bedbugs and among the worst-ranked public housing complexes in the entire nation. It also follows the housing authority’s board chair’s statement to KyCIR, weeks later, that many of the problems at Dosker were the fault of the residents.

KyCIR's reporting “shone a light on some deficiencies that we were experiencing at Dosker Manor,” said Lisa Osanka, the interim director of the Louisville Metro Housing Authority.

KyCIR analyzed housing authority data and found residents in nearly half of all Dosker Manor units complained about bedbugs in the last two and a half years. Many residents had to repeatedly ask for help to eradicate the bugs, and oftentimes, the bugs remained.

Kenneth Williams is one of the residents that’s long been plagued with bedbugs. He said exterminators sprayed chemicals and used a vacuum to remove the bedbugs, something he’d never seen before at Dosker Manor. So far, the recent extermination effort seems to be helping.

“They got the maintenance crew working around the clock now,” Williams said.

Another major change: two city code enforcement officers were spotted making rounds at the 50-year-old complex.

Badge-toting inspectors are an unfamiliar sight at Dosker Manor. Until now, the city’s public housing complexes have gone without the required oversight of city inspectors.

When the officers knocked on Rayshawn Ordway’s door on the 17th floor last week, his sister bolted from her seat to welcome them inside. Rashauna Ordway has complained about the condition of her brother’s apartment for months -- the cracked ceilings and chipped paint, the leaky pipes and the mold.

In the past, the city’s code inspectors were mandated by policy to relay any complaint about public housing complexes to the housing authority's own maintenance staff instead of conducting inspections. The housing authority was considered to be its “own entity,” according to Robert Kirchdorfer, head of the city’s Codes and Regulations department.

About a week after speaking with KyCIR in May, Kirchdorfer asked the Jefferson County Attorney’s office to rule on whether the housing authority properties were his agency’s responsibility.

Last month, the county attorney’s office responded. In a letter to the codes department, assistant Jefferson County Attorney Sarah J. Martin said Kirchdorfer’s agency is responsible, and recommended a change in policy.

Shortly after, a Code Enforcement supervisor announced the policy change in a regular staff meeting, according to multiple Code Enforcement officers who were present at the meeting.

This means that now, anytime a public housing resident submits a formal complaint to the city’s MetroCall 311 service about a property maintenance issue — from mold to infestations — a city code enforcement officer will conduct an inspection.

Ordway was hopeful the two inspectors in her brother’s apartment in Dosker will help. She showed them the water that seeps from tiles in the bathroom, the bulging cracks in the wall near the window, the mold on the ceiling.

“Look at this apartment,” she said. “This apartment is coming apart.”

The inspectors declined to be interviewed. They told Ordway that the housing authority had 30 days to make improvements, and that they’ll be back in a month to make sure.

Changes take investment

The changes will lead to more costs, and more resources.

The new policy is expected to increase the workload for the city’s property inspectors. The city’s 311 line received nearly 90 calls between 2015 and 2017 from Dosker Manor alone, data show. The city has seven other public housing complexes.

It's unclear how the codes department will handle the increase in inspections. Will Ford, a spokesman for the city’s Codes and Regulations department, didn't respond to questions about staffing.

But Osanka said staffing levels at Dosker Manor will grow in the coming weeks. Osanka said she intends to hire additional maintenance workers to help clear out a backlog of needed improvements, and offer overtime hours to some existing maintenance staff.

What’s more, Osanka said a new supervisor will lead the maintenance efforts at Dosker Manor. The previous maintenance supervisor is retiring, Osanka said.

Housing authority officials also say they are updating the agency’s antiquated work order system, which is used to record and track service requests from residents. Osanka said the current work order system — operated via a DOS computer system — wasn’t sufficient.

Housing authority officials have also hired a Georgia-based extermination consultant for $7,500 to help develop an Integrated Pest Management plan to help combat pest infestations.

Currently, the agency has no formal integrated pest management plan, despite such plans being “strongly encouraged” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Yet still, even with a plan, Osanka admits that eradicating the infestation of bedbugs and other pests will be difficult.

“Pest management is a constant,” Osanka said. “Elimination is a tough word.”

Residents Say Culture Of Carelessness Persists

Residents and officials agree that improving the public image and physical conditions of Dosker Manor will take time. Bugs infest by crawling from unit to unit, and leaks on one floor trickle through to floors and ceilings below.

Osanka, though, is confident.

“We will continue to make progress,” she said. “This is my focus.”

Still, some residents here aren’t easily convinced much will change.

Many residents told KyCIR that a culture of carelessness permeates the complex from top to bottom, and they accuse the complex’s top official, Sharon Cofield, of ignoring residents’ concerns. Cofield, through employees in Dosker Manor’s front office, declined multiple requests for an interview.

Rashauna Ordway is worried the changes coming to Dosker Manor may be too little, too late. The building is in shambles and some units are “inhumane,” she said.

She’d like to move her brother out of Dosker Manor, but he can’t afford to.

So, she’s ready to fight on his behalf — and the other residents here, too.

She started the petition calling for better living conditions. She takes pictures of busted ceilings and broken elevators. She complains to anyone who will listen.

And now, standing with the Code Enforcement officers, pointing to the soggy tiles in the bathroom, she feels like someone might finally be listening.

Reporter Jacob Ryan can be reached at  jryan@kycir.org and (502) 814.6559.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.