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Healthy Housing
A Handbook for Portland Property Owners

A number of local efforts have recently shined a spotlight on the relationship between the built environment and the health of low-income Portlanders. Poorly designed housing; a lack of sidewalks and safe crossings; and limited access to recreation, schools, nature, places for social interaction, vital services, preventive medical care, and healthy food all contribute to health challenges that disparately affect low-income residents and communities of color.

Rally Against Roaches

Willamette Manor (not its real name) provides affordable housing to 58 formerly homeless women. Until recently, this Southeast Portland apartment building also sheltered some unwelcome guests: a thriving colony of cockroaches. These insurgent pests had defied years of eradication efforts by residents and the property’s nonprofit owner, REACH Community Development Corporation.

But in 2009, staff at REACH began working with Multnomah County’s Environmental Health department on a new community education project. Its purpose was to help residents deal with their health challenges, using Willamette Manor as a study case. When Willamette Manor residents identified roaches as their prime housing-related health concern, REACH and Environmental Health responded with an aggressive, three-step counter-attack.

Step One: Evaluate and Educate. A three-member outreach team, composed of Willamette Manor’s property manager, resident services coordinator and maintenance technician, paid a visit to each apartment unit. The resident services coordinator gave residents tips on roach prevention, including pointers on housekeeping and reducing clutter. The maintenance technician carefully inspected the physical condition of each unit, looking for holes in walls and plumbing leaks, and placed monitoring traps in areas likely to be infested.

Step Two: Monitor and Treat. Seven days later, the team returned to count trapped cockroaches. This established a baseline from which to measure future progress. Residents were reminded of preventive actions they could take to discourage roaches, and extermination treatments were scheduled for all units showing signs of infestation. The extermination contractor applied a nonspray cockroach gel bait to problem areas; then the outreach team put down a second set of traps, and returned seven days later to count the casualties.

Step Three: Repeat. The outreach team persisted with this program of selective extermination and resident education for two months.

The result of this new system was a 98% decrease in roaches—a vast improvement over previous pest eradication efforts at Willamette Manor.

This intervention effort had a profound impact on this community of formerly homeless women. Previously, residents had lived with cockroaches for so many years that they were resigned to the problem. Now, through continued education, inspection, selective pesticide application and ongoing monitoring, REACH has won the battle against roaches. The property owner has even reproduced its success at other properties, effectively eradicating several different types of pests.

For more information about this project’s methods and results, see Multnomah County Environmental Health’s toolkit, Empowering Approaches to Healthy Affordable Housing: A Toolkit for Change.