Ten-year-old James Ford, who suffers from asthma, has been in and out of the hospital this school year — missing nearly 30 days at Public School 138 in the Bronx.
And instead of doing the things boys generally do on the weekends, the public housing resident is taking classes on Saturdays just to finish fifth grade on time.
His parents say his asthma has grown worse with the spread of dark mold across the bathroom ceiling caused by a leaky pipe in the family’s three-bedroom apartment at the Castle Hill Houses. Human waste drips from the broken pipe above the toilet. The family keeps a neon-green bucket on the tank to catch the ooze. “They (NYCHA) are supposed to come back and fix it,” said James, who can’t play basketball, his favorite sport, because of his asthma. “All they do is come and paint over it. Next month, it’s all back.”
READ MORE: TENANTS SHARE STORIES OF LIVING WITH MOLD
James’ mother, Stacey Ford, 50, is at wit’s end. “I’m tired and my baby’s been missing school,” she said. “It’s a disgusting way to live.”
The Bronx boy’s plight is not that unusual in city public housing, home to more than 400,000 people in 334 developments.
A year ago this week, NYCHA signed a federal consent decree requiring it to aggressively remedy mold conditions for tenants with asthma, including fixing underlying causes like the faulty pipe in James’ bathroom. The first-of-its-kind suit charged NYCHA’s failure to address chronic mold violated the rights of tenants with asthma under the Americans With Disabilities Act. A year later, it’s difficult to quantify what NYCHA has done.
All they do is come and paint over it. Next month, it’s all back.
The settlement required NYCHA to file quarterly reports spelling out the scope of the problem and the number of units repaired. The first report was given to the tenants’ lawyers in October, two months overdue. The second one — due Nov. 1 — has yet to arrive.
Greg Bass, an attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice — one of the groups that filed the suit — said the information received so far was sent in a form that couldn’t be sorted. So, it had to be converted and is just now being analyzed.
“NYCHA is making significant progress on mold, a persistent, long-term condition that has led to adoption of new work guidelines for assessing and addressing the problem, and a coordinated effort with residents in prevention as well as elimination,” said NYCHA’s Joan Lebow. “We are aware that despite our commitment and efforts, residents can find this process frustrating. In most cases NYCHA has met its timed remediation requirements, and we will continue to improve.”
NYCHA says the number of overall repairs — everything from busted elevators to falling bricks — has gone up in the past year after the Daily News revealed a backlog of 420,000 unanswered repair requests. But it’s impossible to know how many of those repairs resulted in abated mold, because NYCHA doesn’t officially categorize mold in its repair database.
Officials at Metro Industrial Area Foundation, a group of churches and nonprofits also involved in the suit, say that since the consent decree was signed, NYCHA has begun to attack the problem. But the crisis is far from over. Of the 84 apartments on the group’s initial fix-it list, NYCHA has done nothing in 57 apartments. And the agency has made nominal repairs in 10 more that were so inadequate the mold came back. Seventeen apartments got effective repairs.
“They’re doing better than they were doing before, but it’s still not good enough,” said the Rev. Getulio Cruz, pastor of Monte Sion Christian Church on the Lower East Side, who stood in front of federal court a year ago to announce the consent decree.
The News, in conjunction with CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s NYCity News Service — with funding from the Knight Foundation — decided to see what, if anything, had been done in the past year to attack this longstanding scourge.
An examination of a half-dozen developments, chosen at random, found hundreds of tenants still waiting for help.
One tenant’s husband who recently had a liver transplant has to leave the house several hours a day because the spores make him sick. A tenant’s 21-year-old asthmatic daughter crashes on an aunt’s couch most nights because she can’t take the mold.
The CUNY team discovered that, in the fall, Community Voices Heard, a tenant advocacy group, surveyed 200 residents of the Castle Hill Houses, 69 in the St. Nicholas Houses in central Harlem and 27 in the Carver Houses in East Harlem.
Nearly all of those surveyed reported dealing with mold issues in the past five years.
About 60% of the households with mold had at least one person diagnosed with asthma, the surveys found. At Castle Hill, residents described a waiting game involving a patchwork approach to repairs that results in mold creeping back. “I hate to see the elderly people and kids suffering through this,” said Roxanne Reid, 58, a Castle Hill tenant leader who’s lived there for 40 years. “NYCHA is not cooperating with the residents . . . and people (are getting) sick and don’t know why.”
The bigger problem is that there’s not a financial commitment to preserving public housing at the federal, state or city level.
At Castle Hill, 84% of those whose apartments had mold had complained to NYCHA, but just over half of those said they’ve received a response. The repairs — usually a combination of painting and plastering — almost inevitably didn’t provide a permanent fix.
Monique George, Community Voices Heard’s director of organizing, said NYCHA needs to address the roots of mold — leaky roofs and pipes, and old, porous brickwork. But it will take big bucks: Officials estimate it would cost $ 18 billion to address all its capital improvement needs. The Housing Authority faces a $ 77 million budget gap this year.
“The bigger problem is that there’s not a financial commitment to preserving public housing at the federal, state or city level,” George said. Public housing residents pay rent, and most are employed, George noted, adding that tenants “should not have to come (home) to deplorable conditions that are making them, and in some cases their children, sick.”
Allegra Abramo/new york daily news Of the 84 apartments on an initial fix-it list, NYCHA has done nothing in 57 of them. Allegra Abramo/new york daily news Mold is seen at the Castle Hill Houses in the Bronx. Allegra Abramo/new york daily news Hundreds of NYCHA tenants are living in apartments plagued by mold.
Frustration boiled over at a recent tenant meeting, where dozens huddled in the unheated lobby of a Castle Hill building to discuss the mold that’s blackened walls and ceilings. Many said they’re tired of being told by NYCHA that they’re taking too many showers or that their showers are too hot. Tenants variously called for a lawsuit, a rent strike or a protest. “You see how Housing is squeezing us,” said Kevin Singley, 38, who has lived in the Castle Hill Houses his whole life. “How are we squeezing them?”
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