At the Laurel City Council meeting Monday, Sept. 9, two residents from Selborne House, an apartment complex on Main Street for seniors age 55 and older, cited multiple issues with the residence, including a bed bug infestation and alleged drug use in the building.
The testimony was the latest in a series of concerns Selborne residents have shared with Laurel's elected officials, as well as officials from District 21's state delegation.
This summer, in response to resident concerns about safety while crossing Main Street, the city added flashing lights to the crosswalk in front of Selborne House to give drivers extra warning of pedestrians in the street. Now, managers of the senior community said they have been working to fix the most recent set of problems.
Pearlie Pitt, 84, who has lived in Selborne House for 14 years and testified Monday night, said she thought the quality of the apartment building had deteriorated in her time there.
"Selborne House was new," she said. "It's gone downhill."
Charline Taylor, 66, another resident, seconded Pitt's testimony.
"I feel the mayor, the council and all of you in this neighborhood could do more for seniors," Pitt said. "Don't forget your seniors."
In August, Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, state Sen. Jim Rosapepe and officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development met with about three dozen Selborne House residents and representatives from Armiger Management, the group that runs Selborne House, to discuss concerns about the building.
Since the meeting, Selborne House management said, they have taken positive steps toward addressing residents' issues, especially in connection with the bed bugs.
Bryan Swift, vice president of Armiger Management, said every unit at Selborne House had been inspected by professional bed bug-detecting dogs and infested units had already undergone the first of three rounds of extermination treatments, which he described as a "partnership" between the exterminators, who spray for bugs, and residents, who must vacuum and keep their clothes laundered in order to ensure the extermination is successful.
"We're confident that at the end of the extermination process it will all be treated," Swift said.
Neither Pitt nor Taylor's apartments were found to have bugs. But Taylor, who said she lives near a storage room that had been infested with the pests, said she wished her unit would have been treated anyway.
"Bed bugs don't stay in the bed," Pitt said, adding that she worried about using the apartment's communal washers and dryers because of the possibility of picking up bugs there.
Taylor said when she asked for an extermination treatment, management told her it would be $400.
"When you do something like that, you have to do the whole building," she said, referring to extermination measures. "We're not young people: People have conditions and they can't take it."
Swift said the extermination process was focused on residents with a bed bug infestation, but that the only instance they would charge for the process would be if a resident interfered or refused to cooperate with extermination plans — for example, by not being at home when exterminators are scheduled to be there or objecting when exterminators arrive to do their work.
"If they steadfastly refuse to cooperate with the extermination, there is a possibility that they may be charged for the extermination costs," Swift said, adding that this scenario had not yet occurred. "That's the only way there's any charge whatsoever."
Swift said he couldn't address residents' allegations that drug users live in the building because they couldn't identify anyone in particular. "If we are made aware of any situations then they are addressed accordingly," he said.
Pitt and Taylor also raised concerns that children were living in some of the units, which would be against the rules of the senior community. Swift said any children in the building were probably visitors.
Rosapepe said he hadn't heard any updates from management since the meeting, but that he was committed to making sure Selborne residents' needs are addressed.
"Taxpayers have made an investment in trying to provide affordable housing for folks in Laurel," he said. "Management has a responsibility to residents and taxpayers to get this right."