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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Times
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Amid Creeping Mold, Calls for City’s Help

Kelly Lotz sits in her house on Moreland Street on Staten Island and smells mold in all directions. Since Hurricane Sandy, the house next door and all its contents — books, couch cushions, a refrigerator overturned in the hallway — have been sitting and rotting. The house on the other side has black mold climbing out of the broken windows and across the white wooden siding.

Now the blotches of mold, shaped like spider web shadows, have reached her house, starting at the sidewalk and stretching to the roof.

“I’m completely surrounded,” said Ms. Lotz, 43. “It’s been six months since the storm. How much longer is this going to take?”

Some of Ms. Lotz’s neighbors asked the same question on Tuesday, as a ragtag parade of residents and advocates marched through the streets of the Midland Beach neighborhood on Staten Island to demand more help from the city to clean up mold. The march was led by Make the Road New York, a nonprofit group that helps low-income New Yorkers.

The small demonstration coincided with the release of a survey detailing what the group’s members say is an inadequate response by the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to help residents remove mold from their homes.

Among the 690 people surveyed in the Rockaways and on Staten Island, more than half had visible mold in their homes, according to the report, and a vast majority of those people had already tried to remediate the mold, only to have it return.

“We’ve been very frustrated with the continuation of mold problems in our community,” said Melissa McCrumb, one of the organizers of the march. “The City of New York should take full responsibility for remediating this mold.”

The city has one of the most aggressive antimold programs in the country meant specifically to respond to infestations since the hurricane, said Peter Spencer, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations. That effort includes using $15 million from the Robin Hood Foundation, the American Red Cross and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City to pay for mold remediation in 2,000 homes.

The services are free for low-income homeowners and renters. So far only 1,200 people have signed up. Even if the remaining 800 slots are filled, the donors have pledged additional financing to expand the program if more renters and homeowners need help, Mr. Spencer said.

“New York is the only municipality to offer comprehensive mold treatment free of charge in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy, through a public-private partnership,” Mr. Spencer said.

In its report and during its protest march, Make the Road New York called on the city to do a better job reaching out to low-income residents to tell them about the free program. Only a small percentage of households surveyed knew the city program existed.

“I believe the government should help us all equally,” said Iztac Zamna Mondragon Rosendo [member of Make the Road New York], a marcher whose rented apartment remains infested with mold.

The call for improved outreach left Mr. Spencer somewhat exasperated. In addition to community meetings and phone calls, text messages and home visits to tens of thousands of households affected by the storm, the project has relied on community groups including Make the Road New York to tell people about the free services available.

He encouraged anyone who needed help to call the program directly at 855-740-MOLD.

In addition to the city program and their own homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, people currently can use their payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for mold remediation, Mr. Spencer said. This week the Bloomberg administration expects the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to approve its plan for spending additional money given to the Community Development Block Grant to respond to the hurricane. The plan includes more money for mold remediation.

Most government programs address mold problems inside homes. In cases like Ms. Lotz’s, when mold is growing on the outside of the house and neighboring houses, the city can help connect them to volunteer groups including many from the Mennonite Church, which have already cleaned mold from thousands of homes, Mr. Spencer said.

“We’ve got plenty of room,” he said. “We’re not going to turn people away who need mold treatment.”

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