More than once, Susanna Sanders has woken up to find a crushed cockroach in her bed. The Master’s student lives with her husband at Student Family Housing, a two-building university residence complex on Charles Street, east of the St. George campus, that houses couples and students with children. Sanders (name changed) had never seen a roach until she moved from her small Ontario -hometown to downtown Toronto. By now, she is a veteran—in some parts of Student Family Housing, the cockroaches are pretty much in charge.
Every morning, Sanders’ husband kills about 15 bugs in the kitchen. Sanders kills three or four in the bathroom before taking her shower. “I can’t even have a bath in my own home because cockroaches fall on me,” she said.
Cockroaches are usually shy, emerging at night and fleeing humans and light. The roaches in Sanders’s apartment venture out in broad daylight, even though the place is otherwise immaculate. They come out of the stove, air vents, and cracks in light switch panels. Even a set of brand-new bookshelves are infested.
“One night I was sitting on the couch, using my laptop, and one crawled right over me,” said Sanders.
Built in 1969, Student Family Housing is among the little affordable housing available near campus. By all accounts, it forms a community for student parents, offering recreational programs and support groups. The building has always been publicly owned, but it was privately managed until 2004, when university employees took over. They are well aware of the problem.
“It’s something I know the staff is very concerned about, and that they spend a lot of time dealing with,” said Anne MacDonald, director of Ancillary Services.
“We have a pest control company that attends the site weekly for treatments. The contractor basically spends the whole day there.” Any resident can request extermination, and every two weeks, all common areas are treated.
Residents can choose between an insecticide spray and a gel treatment. MacDonald says that the units on all sides of problem apartments are also inspected and treated. Tenants cannot refuse treatment if their apartment is found to be infested.
This has not been Sanders’ experience. She sees cockroaches coming through vents from her neighbours’ kitchen and bathroom, and as far as she knows, they have not been treated. As a result, repeated gel treatments have done nothing for her. “I think there should be mandatory treatment for everyone in the building,” said Sanders.
Not every resident is in Sanders’ position. The problem seems to vary between floors and apartments, and some residents have no complaints at all. Others praise management, and place the blame on their neighbours.
“There are some people who simply do not mind living with roaches,” said Callie Abney (name changed). “We heard from a pest control man how he found dozens of roaches crawling over the front door of one such unit.”
“The roach problem in our unit is much better now after receiving the new max-gel treatment, and after repeated block treatments were done in our neighbouring units,” said Abney. “The management office is doing more every day.”
Management runs regular information sessions on pest control, as well as an “exclusion” program, sealing cracks and crevices. Residents say that a little caulk goes a long way, but Sanders hasn’t been offered sealing services. “It’s being done primarily in vacant units right now, and units that are problematic,” said MacDonald.
All this may be too late to save the building’s reputation. Finding affordable housing downtown is a big issue for student parents, but between the roaches and the extermination, Student Family Housing is becoming an address to avoid.
One undergraduate parent was offered a spot, and toured the building: “The apartment I saw had both live cockroaches all over the place and dead ones all over the place. They told me they had already fumigated three times prior to me seeing it,” she said. She chose not to move in.
One graduate student with children has heard too many horror stories from her friends to consider Family Housing. “It’s kind of surprising,” she said “because if you walk around the graduate residence, it’s beautiful.”
For Sanders, living in residence has been both an emotional burden and a financial challenge. “The cost of living here is going to be huge,” she said, “because we are not taking anything with us [when we move out]. We had to throw out a brand new blender, a wedding gift, because it was infested with bugs. It’s just frustrating that we have to live like this.”