Spurred by months of complaints, the city of Richmond plans to fumigate an affordable housing complex to rid it of bloodsucking bedbugs that leave residents sleepless and covered in itchy bites.

A large tent is scheduled to be cast over the 160-unit Hacienda high-rise Friday morning, and crews will spray the building with a pesticide, said Manuel Rosario, deputy director of the city Housing Authority.

"We'll have a big canvas on the roof with cranes," Rosario said. "We'll have sewing machines so as each section is sewn, they'll drop it down."

Most tenants moved into local hotels Thursday, while some will stay with family in the area. They will return to the Hacienda on Oct. 15.

The pests have vexed scores of residents in this complex that houses the poor, elderly and disabled.

Tenants started noticing mysterious, itchy bites on their bodies in March, an infestation that they said quickly spread to at least half the units.

Bedbugs are not known to carry diseases, but their bites leave conspicuous bumps, and their saliva makes skin itch. Residents have washed their bedding repeatedly, cleaned the walls and floors with bleach and slathered anti-itch medicine on their bodies, to no avail. Because of the itchiness -- and the angst of bugs crawling out of mattress seams and floorboards to feed at night -- many tenants resorted to trying to sleep upright in chairs or on the hard floor.

"When twilight hits, I'm laying there for half an hour," said Billy Nichols, 68. "As soon as I start to fall asleep, they come for me.


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The tenants council sent the Housing Authority a petition for relief in mid-April signed by 63 residents. Inspectors found a handful of the apartments have bedbugs, Rosario said; others have fleas.

Tenants begged the city to tent and fumigate the building rather than spray individual apartments, as it did in May, to ensure the pests are killed for good. The Housing Authority agreed and moved ahead with the plan.

"Once they got started, they really haven't wasted any time getting on top of it," said Dolores Johnson, president of the tenants council.

The Housing Authority is tallying up expenses and doesn't know what the final price tag will be, Rosario said, but booking the hotel rooms for tenants to stay several days will cost more than $60,000. Each family also is receiving a per diem for food. The amount varies, but can run in the hundreds of dollars per unit.

On Thursday morning, residents prepared to leave their apartments. They were allowed to bring clothes, medicine and other belongings, all of which have been fumigated. Paratransit buses lined up to pick up tenants who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes.

In the rear parking lot, pet owners handed their dogs and cats over to groomers waiting in a mobile pet-grooming van. Candace Kidd, lead dog stylist for Aussie Pet Mobile in Marin County, used a plant-based product to wash the animals. Groomers found at least one dog with bedbugs hidden in its fur.

"They (bedbugs) are very similar to fleas," said Dave Ely, owner of Aussie Pet Mobile. "They're a bloodsucking insect. They get on you, and at night, they munch on you."

A number of residents applauded the city for hearing their pleas to tent the building, though some said Thursday's move was not as orderly as they would have liked.

Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/katherinetam.

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For a photo slideshow and earlier coverage of bedbug complaints at the Hacienda housing complex, go online to www.contracostatimes.com/richmond and click on the links with this story.