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'I shouldn't have to live like this': Gilpin Court family displaced by rodent infestation

The mice and rats got so bad in ShaVonda Finley’s Gilpin Court apartment she couldn’t take it anymore.

Finley and her seven children have dealt with a rodent infestation for two years, but the issue worsened this month, she said. The breaking point came last week, when Finley awoke to find her daughter in a panic. Mice had been crawling in her children’s bed, and their droppings were in the sheets.

After that, Finley packed some bags, called a crisis hotline and headed for a hotel on Chamberlayne Avenue. She doesn’t want to return to the apartment.

She said she is worried the unsanitary conditions will jeopardize her custody of, and the health of her children, who range in age from twin 1-year-olds to 14.

“At this point, I’m physically and mentally drained,” Finley said. “I’m tired of crying.”

Rodents have been a persistent problem for some residents of the 783-unit public housing community in the northern half of Jackson Ward. Gilpin residents raised the issue to RRHA leaders at a community meeting over the summer.

In response to the concerns, the housing authority’s interim chief real estate officer, Desi Wynter, said at the time that it may be an intractable problem.

“You’re looking at an infestation problem that’s buried deep in the community,” Wynter said then. “Sometimes the only way to really get rid of that is to really start over, taking out the infrastructure where they live. That’s what we plan to do.”

Gilpin’s property manager, Nichole Adams, told those in attendance that maintenance staff was doing what it could to keep the problem under control.

“I do know there’s an issue with mice in certain areas. We’ve done what we can, and we’re trying our best to keep the holes filled, but they chew through them. They come back,” Adams said at the time.

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So far this year, Gilpin residents have called in 323 work order requests for pests, including rats, roaches, ants and other vermin, according to figures provided by the housing authority.

As of last week, 24 pest-related work orders remained open, with 18 of them pertaining to roaches and four relating to mice, said Angela Fountain, an RRHA spokesperson. In addition to the work orders, the housing authority schedules pest extermination at its properties on a quarterly basis, Fountain said. Gilpin’s is scheduled to take place next month.

Finley’s neighbor, Paula Williams, has reported the same issue to management. She said she has repeatedly filed work orders. After maintenance workers have come out to plug holes, the mice always find a way back in.

“I can’t even really keep food in my kitchen because I don’t want them crawling around and getting into something and I don’t know it,” Williams said. “I keep my kitchen clean. It’s not a housekeeping issue.”

Fountain said the housing authority had two work orders on file from Finley’s apartment and closed both of them last week. RRHA maintenance staff patched holes the rodents had chewed through cinder-block walls in her apartment, and sought to plug openings in the ceiling through which the plumbing is routed and the mice have squeezed. The agency set traps, too.

Finley says she’s spent her own money trying to do the same before, to no avail. Traps have only stemmed the tide. As quickly as she has put them down, she’s had to replace them. And no matter what, the mice keep coming.

Their droppings are evident under her kitchen sink, and on the open shelving where she keeps her children’s snacks and canned goods. At night, she said, she can hear the rodents skittering around in the attic of her building and the apartment’s walls.

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Once homeless, Finley’s move to Gilpin two years ago was supposed to be a fresh start for her and her family. A former tenant who lived in the apartment warned her about the mice problem, she said. Not long after arriving, she spotted rodents, but decided not to say anything to management initially, out of fear that she would lose the apartment.

She pays the housing authority about $360 a month in rent for the four-bedroom unit. After falling behind during the pandemic, she caught up with help from a relief program that also paid the housing authority three months’ rent in advance.

Finley said she wants a transfer to another public housing unit. Fountain, the spokesperson, said the housing authority had not received a formal request, which Finley insists she filed through a social worker, as of Friday afternoon.

Under RRHA policy, a tenant may qualify for an emergency transfer if a maintenance issue cannot be fixed while a unit is occupied and presents “a serious danger to the health and safety” of someone living there or exacerbates a life-threatening medical condition of a resident.

Finley’s 1-year-old son has been hospitalized for breathing issues multiple times, she said. She sent her 13-year-old to stay with his father when his asthma began acting up recently.

Finley returned to the apartment briefly Friday to pick up some possessions. While she was checking a trap, a rat attacked her, breaking the skin, she said. She went to the emergency room Friday afternoon for treatment.

What comes next, she doesn’t know. But she doesn’t want to stay another night at the apartment, even if it means she has to take her children from the hotel to a homeless shelter temporarily.

“I just want to get out,” Finley said. “It’s not fair. I shouldn’t have to live like this.”


Govt-and-politics
Virginia House candidate criticized for insulting Filler-Corn in tweet

NORFOLK — A Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates has apologized after tweeting a derogatory comment about the appearance of House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn that some Democrats said was an antisemitic attack.

The Washington Post reports that Hahns Copeland, who is running to represent the Norfolk-based 89th District, on Friday tweeted a response to a tweet by House Democrats that featured a video of Filler-Corn, who is Jewish, talking about a child care subsidy program.

“I was surprised to see a pair of eyes and a mouth with that NOSE,” Copeland tweeted.

Copeland apologized in another tweet late Friday, calling the earlier tweet “immature and impulsive.”

“It was never intended to be anti-Semitic or reference her ethnicity or religion,” Copeland’s tweet said. He conceded his earlier tweet was “inappropriate and insensitive.”

Democrats said it was an antisemitic attack on Filler-Corn.

Filler-Corn’s staff said Friday that she had not heard directly from Copeland.

Copeland faces Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, in November’s election. The 89th District leans strongly Democratic.


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