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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– One night recently, Velrae Morgan heard her dog scratching at the floor beneath the cabinet where a microwave oven sits in her kitchen at the Hawthorne Place Apartments.

The first time Morgan inspected, she didn’t find anything.

“Come to find out the second time I came down, she done pulled it out from under the microwave and it’s a rat and it’s attached to the trap to the sticky trap but it done pulled his body off the sticky trap and now it’s trying to fight me so I gotta move and get a broom and mop trying to get it.”

After hearing her story, I observed that Morgan was now an experienced public housing rat fighter.

“I guess so. I don’t want to be,” she said. “I’m scared of ‘em.”

Morgan and her neighbors have been battling rodents and infestation for years at one of the most troubled properties belonging to the Indianapolis Housing Agency (IHA).

“When I first came here, the first thing I saw was a mice and then it went from mice to rats so it done got worse in the last couple years,” said Morgan. “It’s off the chain. It’s really bad now. I mean, the rats. I come home. I got mice crawling across my curtains, you see I don’t have curtains, I snatched them down because I don’t want nothing crawling up my curtains. So I don’t have no curtains. I done throwed away a lot of my stuff, coolers and stuff, because they’re rat infested with rat droppings. It’s got horrible.”

Morgan said she’s filed eleven work orders for IHA maintenance crews to repair her back door, the site of an attempted break-in, where rodents squeeze through, and a hole rats burrowed from her neighbor’s unit into her own under the steps that lead upstairs.

“Now I got rats in my house,” she said.

It’s not rats but cockroaches that have overrun ReGene Pippin’s apartment across the way at Hawthorne Place.

“My first night here I started seeing all the rodents in the kitchen which is the roaches and stuff,” she said. “A thousand roaches. I don’t come down here in my kitchen without shoes on, period, cuz I’m steppin’ on ‘em, killin’ em. It’s a whole bunch. Babies. Big ones. It’s a whole bunch.”

Pippin said her son’s asthma is aggravated by cockroach dander and residue.

“They be in the furniture, my mother killed one on the couch last night. I don’t wanna have company over here. It don’t matter what I’m doing. I pull my TV away and sweep my stuff and they just go running. They’re everywhere here.”

On Monday another resident told us she was forced to toss away all her bedding because of cockroach infestation as she prepared to abandon Hawthorne Place for a Section 8 housing voucher that would put her and five children into a privately-owned apartment.

IHA Executive Director John Hall said that under his direction the agency has developed a six-point plan to attack infestation in public housing properties.

Hall said that approach includes, “the changing of the chemicals making stronger solutions so that we’re not just treating the problem but we have a goal of eradicating…we’ve made enhanced sanitation areas. We’ve placed lids on all of our dumpsters…we’ve cleared some of the trash units, I think you’ve reported that those vacant units had a lot of trash idle that was just a breeding ground for pests, so we’ve been able to clear those and clean them and make sure that those are free from pest infestation.”

Hall said his plan also includes more intensive monthly extermination inspections and advising residents to declutter their units to disrupt nesting opportunities for pests.

“My vision is that all of our residents live in a pest free environment. That is something that I have been giving that message and that vision to with the tenants that I have met with them over the last several months.”

Hall said his agency is spending $500,000 in the year to come to improve Hawthorne Place and in anticipation of an upcoming audit by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Hawthorne management has also conducted income recertification of each tenant and an inspection of each unit.

Today crews were picking up debris, a maintenance worker was painting speedbumps and outside contractors were preparing an apartment for new tenants at the east side complex.

Hall, on the job since early March, will send a report to Mayor Joe Hogsett Thursday detailing his findings and attempts to turn around the troubled agency.

“It’ll be very enlightening but no surprises,” he said. “We’re making significant improvement.”

Last month Hall said IHA and its staff deserved an “F” failing grade across the board and had a 97% failure rate for its administration of the Section 8 rental assistance program.

While financial reporting has stabilized and plans are in place to add one thousand Section 8 families to the program by the end of the year, infestation, maintenance and occupancy problems that have been years in the making will take longer to sort out.

“I’m not one to dwell on what went on before I got here so I just understand what is happening now, I’ve asked the staff to help me identify and to strategize and to implement and to be very dedicated to the process,” Hall said, recognizing that the most recent-year-to-year review may not show improvement until the summer of 2020. “We’ve finished up the window where we still probably are not going to have a passing grade until this time next year is the goal.”