UC Cooperative Extension advisor helps property managers prevent pests in the home

Living with pests, or “unwanted guests” as some put it, can take a physical, mental and economic toll. For people living in multi-family unit housing, like an apartment complex where everyone lives under one roof, a single infestation of insects or rodents can expose all residents.

Using integrated pest management, or IPM, residents and property managers can detect infestations early and control severe ones and protect people. IPM programs can also save money. IPM saved a 75-unit complex in Contra Costa County $11,121 annually. Similarly, in Santa Clara County, a 59-unit complex saved $1,321 on pest control annually after implementing a proactive IPM program.

This summer, regional directors, property managers, residential service coordinators, maintenance managers and groundskeepers of Mercy Housing – a nonprofit organization that provides affordable, low-income housing – gathered in Long Beach to learn about in-home IPM. The session was led by Siavash Taravati, University of California Cooperative Extension area IPM advisor for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, and

Josh Shoemaker, an entomologist and private consultant.

Taravati and Shoemaker collaborated with StopPests in Housing, a national program out of Cornell University's Northeastern IPM Center, which seeks to improve pest control in affordable housing and teach management practices for cockroaches, bed bugs and rodents within and around the home.

During their presentation, Taravati introduced participants to the IPM principles and emphasized the importance of monitoring pests.

“IPM is all about making informed decisions which requires knowing the latest status of an infestation,” explained Taravati. “That's where monitoring comes into play. It can help us to identify the exact species we are dealing with as well as telling us if an infestation is growing or shrinking.”

“Monitoring is foundational,” agreed Shoemaker. “If a program does not include monitoring, it's not an IPM program.” 

According to Shoemaker, the benefit of partnering with UC IPM is their sharp focus on general IPM, which includes monitoring. “It's real IPM, that prioritizes the well-being of the public,” said Shoemaker, who's eager to continue working with Cooperative Extension and Taravati to ensure that children are growing up in safe environments.

Pest control treatments commonly take place following a serious infestation or several complaints, but IPM promotes constant monitoring to prevent heavy infestations from ever happening. It's a proactive approach rather than a reactive or emergency-response. For many attendees, the training revealed a need to engage with pest management operators more closely. 

Training prompts changes that improve safety for residents

Pest management operators commonly use pesticide sprays to control pests. Besides inconveniencing residents, forcing them to do extensive preparations and evacuate their unit until it's safe to return, sprays increase exposure risk to pesticides since the aerosols can linger and land on surfaces. 

Instead, Taravati and Shoemaker recommend using gel baits, which are much safer to apply and can target a specific area of a home, including crevices, instead of along all the walls.

“Now that I'm more informed, I'll be speaking to my contractor to discuss how we can switch their approach from a bug spray to a gel,” said Leonardo Pinuelas, a maintenance manager for Mercy Housing.

Pinuelas is not the only one wanting to modify their program, however. According to feedback from staff members at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles who experienced the same training earlier this year, they prompted their team to amend their pest extermination to include dusting, or applying insecticidal dusts, against roaches, and to review and update their existing IPM plan and practices where appropriate.

Cindy Wise, area director of operations for Mercy Housing, said that in her 35 years, this was one of the few trainings that engaged her staff so actively. “I couldn't help but text my regional vice president to say that our managers were actively participating and asking questions. That doesn't happen often, not even in our own meetings,” said Wise.

Many of the attendees, with their new understanding of how cockroaches move through a structure, shared that they are eager to return to work to meet with residents and support them.

“If you've got roaches in one unit, you've got them in the entire building,” Wise said.

Shoemaker recalls the words of Judy Black, senior technical entomologist for Orkin, and Dini Miller, entomologist at Virginia Tech, who urge the importance of inspections and documentation as IPM best practices.

Although reporting pests in the home can make one feel embarrassed, Wise said she is more interested in making residents feel empowered to not only report signs of infestation to the staff, but to their neighbors.

Training residents is certainly beneficial, but as experts such as Black and Miller have pointed out, housing managers must do their part, instead of scapegoating tenants for their cleaning habits.

StopPests provides free IPM training and technical assistance to Housing and Urban Development assisted properties. If you are interested in the training provided by Taravati and Shoemaker, in collaboration with StopPests, visit StopPests.org for more information.

By Saoimanu Sope
Author - Digital Communications Specialist