The New York City Housing Authority’s Sustainability Agenda is exactly correct: A safe, clean and healthy home is the right of every individual, regardless of ZIP code.
But where NYCHA has it completely wrong is in its execution of that mission. Today, all across New York City, thousands of NYCHA occupants are living in residences that are anything but clean and healthy, and are in fact contaminated with mold.
The numbers are appalling: A 2016 report from Comptroller Scott Stringer found that 7.1 percent of all NYCHA households, comprising more than 12,500 units, reported moldy smells on a daily basis inside their apartments and more than 13 percent reported this multiple times a year. Behind these numbers are people who want nothing more than to live a comfortable, healthy life.
At the heart of the mold problem lie two main issues: The first is NYCHA’s inability to respond promptly to occupants’ mold concerns. The second is NYCHA’s failure — when it does show up — to fully repair the underlying problems associated with the mold, instead of making just cosmetic fixes.
I have seen NYCHA’s ineptitude firsthand here in my district. I met with seniors at Shelton Houses last year, who were living in apartments with moldy, rotten floors, along with mold in the compactor room. I was horrified by what I saw. It was NYCHA neglecting to show up and remove the mold, even after residents voiced their concerns, that turned a problem into a disaster. Shelton House residents were left waiting months for NYCHA to make repairs.
This ineptitude is not just more bureaucratic red tape, it is actually a violation of a 2014 court settlement that NYCHA agreed to, requiring it to make basic repairs within seven days and complex repairs within 15 days. In fact, in 2015 the court found that NYCHA had been out of compliance since the day the agreement was signed.
Making matters worse is that problems can persist for residents long after mold has been removed. At a joint Environmental Protection and Public Housing Committee hearing last week, I questioned NYCHA about one of my constituent’s apartments in Shelton House. The apartment suffered significant mold damage, but NYCHA has responded by doing just the bare minimum: mold removal. As a result, it failed to fix holes in the ceiling, re-plaster the walls or paint the apartment. It was only after I questioned NYCHA under oath that its officials were finally spurred into action to remedy the situation.
NYCHA’s failure to completely solve mold problems not only makes it difficult for residents to live comfortably, but it can impact their health, too. People who are allergic to mold can suffer from dangerous reactions, like fever and shortness of breath, while those with chronic lung illnesses can develop mold infections in their lungs. According to the World Health Organization, occupants of moldy buildings are at a higher risk of respiratory infections and worsening asthma symptoms.
With New Yorkers’ health and well-being at stake, it is urgent that we take action to promptly remove mold from public housing.
That is why I am proud to co-sponsor legislation in the New York City Council that would require only licensed mold removal technicians to be permitted to work at public housing buildings. NYCHA’s reliance today on unskilled workers to remove mold too oftentimes leaves the underlying problem unresolved, and in some cases, makes the situation worse. Hiring licensed professionals to remove mold will lead to cleaner, healthier homes for New Yorkers.
If we are going to tackle the mold problem in NYCHA residences, we must ensure NYCHA does the job right the first time. That means no shortcuts, and no cutting corners.
We have to send a message to NYCHA: Indifference to mold problems residents are facing — especially with possible health consequences — will no longer be tolerated.
Rory Lancman is New York City Councilman for the 24th District, in central and northern Queens.
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