STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Despite attempts to tackle the pervasive problem of mold in homes soaked by Hurricane Sandy, some advocates say certain residents are falling through the cracks.
“Sandy’s Mold Legacy,” a report released by a coalition of groups called The Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, urges the city to develop different programs to tackle the spores left behind by Sandy — finding that only 17 percent of residents surveyed even knew about an existing program, Neighborhood Revitalization NYC. Even if residents were aware, the program requires a landlord’s OK, and doesn’t always cover the removal of mold on the outside of a home.
But Peter Spencer, spokesman for the mayor’s recovery effort, said the answer to people’s mold woes was not a different program, but to urge everyone — homeowners and tenants, undocumented immigrants and citizens — to reach out to Neighborhood Revitalization NYC.
“If you have mold, call up. Don’t worry where the mold is. Don’t worry about if you’re a renter, if you’re not a renter,” Spencer said. “Just call up.”
TAKEN ON TOUR
But for some homeowners on a tour provided by Make the Road New York, either the message wasn’t getting through, or the program wasn’t working.
“I would like to return to my home, but because of the mold I can’t return,” Iztac Mondiagon Rosendo said, through a Spanish interpreter, at a press conference held by Make the Road New York, one of the groups that put out the report.
Ms. Mondiagon Rosendo, who works cleaning homes, lived on Colony Avenue in Midland Beach before the storm — and returned two days later to try to clean up, even though she rented her home. She hurt her arm cleaning, she said, and the landlord simply used Clorox — not enough to get rid of the mold. Mrs. Mondiagon Rosendo wound up in the hospital as a result of her injury and her exposure to the mold.
“Up until today I still have not completely recovered and I still have problems with my throat,” she said. “The doctors have told me I still cannot return to live there.”
Danielle Marrero, her children, and her fiance had to move in to her mother’s apartment in South Beach after her home in that neighborhood was completely flooded. But her mother’s home, too, is plagued by mold that the landlord has not removed. Her family doesn’t want to complain too much to the landlord, she said, who is already annoyed extra people are staying in the home.
The report surveyed 690 homes — and 61 percent of them had visible mold at the time of the survey. More than a third of residents who tried to get rid of the mold saw it return — and if the resident tried to get rid of the mold on his own, it returned 90 percent of the time.
More than half of renters have already tried to get rid of mold, the report found, even though it’s a landlord’s job.
In response to the findings, the report recommended three things: For the city to create a program that proactively assesses homes for mold, rather than requiring people to opt-in; that the city set aside federal Community Development Block Grants just for mold remediation, and not require that homes have other damage to get it; and that the city develop a clear path for tenants to have the right to a mold-free home.
But Spencer said the Neighborhood Revitalization NYC program, run by the city but funded by nonprofit and private groups, can help most people still struggling with mold. While the report found few aware of it, Spencer said the program has been heavily publicized at community meetings and in the media — including in the Advance.
Spencer said renters can call the program’s toll-free number to report mold in their home — and the program will contact the property owner for them. It’s unlikely landlords wouldn’t accept the free mold removal service, but if they didn’t, Spencer said the Mayor’s Fund for the Advancement of New York already has legal services for tenants rights issues that could help.
Spencer said external isn’t completely covered by the program when removing it involves completely taking down walls, which would then need to be put back together, which isn’t something the mold contractors can do. But Spencer said the city can try to tap other rebuilding resources to couple with the mold remediation program to help those homeowners.
And the city’s plan for Community Development Block Grants does include allocating some of that money for mold remediation, Spencer said — which could also be used to help those with mold in siding or exterior walls.