Bed bugs and mixed housing

My family and I, armed with degrees in International Development and Conflict Resolution, moved to the inner city 13 year ago with the intent of making a difference in the community. Perhaps we would never make a large difference but we would do our part.

My university training suggested that poverty and social problems were often caused by others and that “capacity building” of the downtrodden could be effective in reducing poverty. 13 years of living in the inner city has shown me that these ideas are overly simplistic. Often times people are not poor because of “the man” oppressing them but rather they have mental health and addiction issues which preclude rational decision making. The choices made by some of these folks defy comprehension and there is little a white middle class dude with a few degrees under his belt can do about that.

One “capacity building” method is the use of integrated housing where rich and poor alike, via rent subsidies, can live side by side. In some ways I like this model as it avoids ghettoizing the poor. And I am sure there are some poor folks that would benefit greatly and fit in to the community nicely. But there is a percentage (my gut tells me it is quite a large percentage) of these folks that could not coexist with people of more rational thought and action in integrated setting.

I have noted over the years that a tenant who goes to work, minds his own business, and does not associate with the “underclass” gets bed bugs once every 25 years or so. On the other hand a tenant that has a high risk lifestyle and associates with the “underclass” will bring home bed bugs every 10 months or so. The bed bugs do not arrive because they prefer poor blood but rather it is the life choices and their community relations that put them at risk. If a tenant insists on sitting on his friend’s infested couch he/she will bring home bed bugs more often than a tenant who does not. A dumpster diving tenant brings home bugs more often than a tenant who does not dumpster dive – it is that simple.

As an exterminator I see these class divisions all the time. Some inner city apartment blocks have constant issues with bed bugs. The higher rent apartment blocks see fewer issues.

So what happens when you have a dumpster diving tenant living in a subsidized apartment beside other more affluent tenants? The bed bug risks to the building increase dramatically and higher functioning folks get bed bugs more often as a result. As such I suspect the idea of mixed housing will become unpopular in the higher functioning (typically richer) circles.

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