Roach infestation has advocates demanding Durham public housing action

Anthony Wilson Image
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Roach infestation has advocates demanding Durham public housing action
The I-Team investigates after roach infestation reveals ongoing health and safety concerns at Durham public housing.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The pictures of swarming roaches may give some viewers the creeps but imagine waking up with them crawling all over you and your children.

That's the horror faced until recently by Natayah Robinson, a 24-year-old mother of four who said she is moving out of the Liberty Street public housing complex in Durham to escape severe roach infestation.

She told ABC11 that the problem persisted even after an exterminator's visit a few weeks ago.

"Now, they're getting on the furniture, actually on the couch," Robinson said. "Really, really bad on the bed."

So bad that she said she can't prepare food in the kitchen or provide a roach-free area for her children to successfully participate in remote learning inside the apartment.

Word of the problem and images depicting it spread quickly online and in the public housing community.

RELATED: Water leaks latest concern at Durham's McDougald Terrace public housing complex

Water leaks latest concern at Durham's McDougald Terrace public housing complex

Charlitta Burrus leads the nearby Edgemont Elms Residents Council and said she knows how it feels to be a single, working mother feeling trapped in a bad housing situation.

"That's having an infestation of roaches, has four children she can't even educate. She had to throw beds out, she had to throw linen out. We're having problems with just getting answers," Burrus said.

Robinson has had enough.

"I'm moving," she said. "Currently looking for a place now."


Ward 2 Durham City Councilman Mark Anthony Middleton told ABC 11: "We've got work to do. We've got work to do. I'm a product of public housing. I know firsthand the level of investment that's going to be needed to bring these places up to code and habitable. What we saw was unacceptable."

Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN) shared 56 pages of suggestions for DHA to improve its service with ABC11. The advocates said the problems go back years and include the carbon monoxide gas leaks that led to DHA's relocation of hundreds of residents to hotels while repairs were made.

"It's reflected in the information from Durham CAN. These are decades-old issues," Anthony Scott, the CEO of Durham DHA, said. "We're trying to resolve the systemic issues that we have, rebuild them in a way that will allow us to be better, more efficient."

Middleton said he has spoken with Scott and expects improvements.

"As the head of the organization of course, the buck stops with him," Middleton said. "So, I called him; he assured me he was looking into it. Look at the history of the complaints. I understand there's some concern about the timeliness the complaints were responded to. Anthony Scott's been placed on notice, he knows that there are folks waiting on some answers and I fully expect that he'll do his due diligence and get those answers."

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After hundreds of residents spent four months evacuated from their homes, some continue to report ongoing issues such as plumbing and fungus problems.

Middleton said the city contributes limited funding but the onus also lies with at the federal level.

"We right now have a federal housing authority, Department of Housing and Urban Development, that sees public housing as a problem, something that needs to be disinvested rather than bulked up," Middleton said. "We ought not dismiss that. These issues are going to take money, large amounts of investment. The city will do what we can, but the city's checkbook is not large enough to take care of the whole range of problems by itself. We need to leverage city dollars, state dollars and federal dollars."

Meanwhile Robinson has moved her family out of the Liberty Street apartment to her mother's home, and she has a message for anyone thinking about moving into her former apartment unit.

"I would tell them don't. Please don't," she said.

The city doesn't plan to rent it without addressing the roach issue.

"The unit has to be treated and the infestation issue has to be eradicated before we would allow anybody to move back into that unit," Scott said.


Middleton hopes that the renewed focus will bring an infusion of resources.

"Now that we're paying attention to it," Middleton said, "I'm hopeful that there'll be more funding will come from folks in power, more activism from organizations like CAN and other organizations."

Burrus is ready to start now, with long-awaited improvements to her community.

"We've been asking for cameras, for years, to be put back out here. I'm willing to get other residents. Let's beautify this place ourselves," Burrus said. "Let's put some flowers out there, some lights out there. So we're willing to do things for ourselves. You mean DHA can't come halfway with us and say, 'y'all the residents. You want to beautify your community? We'll help you.'"

Scott seemed responsive to the proposal.

"That sounds like a great idea. I'd like to talk to Ms. Burress. I do know her and we certainly can talk about that," Scott said.

ABC11 will keep an eye on the progress made by DHA on those public-housing concerns.

WATCH: ABC11 Special: The Public Housing Crisis