110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Dec 10, 2012 - 5:57:37am
A DeLand mom is living in a hotel room with her four children, after the children’s doctor told her not to return to her apartment in the 1-year-old Laurel Villas public-housing project.
The reason? The pediatrician said mold in the apartment is causing respiratory problems in the children, especially the 11-month-old, who was born with numerous medical problems, including severe respiratory issues and allergies.
The family members’ names are not being used by The Beacon, to protect the children’s privacy with regard to their medical conditions.
Dr. Pam Perry at Community Medical Center in DeLand has referred the children to a lung specialist, and wants more information about the mold, she stated in a letter.
Some types of molds are associated with severe breathing problems in sensitive people.
A company called Picerne worked with the DeLand Housing Authority to develop and build the 220-unit housing complex south of East Voorhis Avenue, to replace DeLand’s aging public-housing complex, Oakland Terrace.
Picerne now manages the apartment complex for the DeLand Housing Authority. The company’s on-site manager, Edwin Soto, did not return The Beacon’s call regarding the mold problem. Instead, Abbie Hefman from the Picerne corporate office in Longwood did, on Dec. 4.
She said the Picerne staff “found no evidence” to back up the mother’s claims. “There’s no evidence of mold,” Hefman said.
Also on Dec. 4, DeLand Housing Authority Executive Director Millie Quinones said something would be done about the situation; that perhaps the family could be moved into a different apartment at the complex.
The next morning, Dec. 5, Quinones called back to say, “It was not mold. ... They certified that.”
Quinones said the certification was done by a maintenance person from Picerne. Quinones nevertheless said she had asked the company to put the family on a waiting list for another apartment, and the mother will be moved as soon as possible.
There have been no other complaints about mold, Quinones said.
The mother told The Beacon mold began growing in the garage, which is just off the family’s kitchen. The Picerne maintenance staff sprayed it, but the mold started growing right back, she said.
She said manager Soto called the situation “a moisture problem” and said it was due to dampness caused by the mother’s failure to regularly clean the lint trap on her clothes dryer.
“Bullshit,” said Brian Christensen of Restoration 1 of Central Florida. Clothes dryers are helpful in drying air, he pointed out.
Christensen’s company specializes in treating water damage and performing mold removal. Called for a free inspection by the mother, he visited the Laurel Villas apartment Dec. 5.
The Beacon met him and the mother at the apartment. When the mom opened the door to the garage, the stench of mold hit everyone.
Christensen said the odor, and black specks on the garage wall, are definite indications of a mold problem. The strong odor, he said, is caused by a gas given off by mold colonies, which produce the black spots on the walls.
Christensen asked if the apartment-maintenance company did any air-quality tests in the apartment. No, the mother said, they did no tests whatsoever. They just cleaned the growths with an unknown spray.
Mold needs water and a food source to develop colonies, Christensen said. He inspected the garage and the family’s tidy two-story apartment, and couldn’t find what was fueling the mold’s growth.
Usually, he said, there’s a leaking water heater, water pipe or toilet, an overflowing refrigerator drip pan or an air-conditioning unit spurring the mold’s growth. He found none of those problems.
The family’s next-door neighbor, who shares a common wall, also had a mold problem in her apartment, she said. She did not want her name used.
The neighbor said covers on every air-conditioning vent in her apartment were filled with mold. She said the Picerne maintenance staff promptly came to clean and treat it, and the mold in her apartment doesn’t seem to be returning. Still, the neighbor said, she is going to remove all the vent plates and clean again, after seeing the problem next door.
Christensen used his equipment to check the wall between the two apartments and found no moisture or sign the mold had traveled through the wall.
The mother said the only regular source of moisture in the area comes from a downspout that empties water from rain gutters into the driveway. The driveway was wet that afternoon, although it hadn’t rained that day. Christensen was skeptical of the downspout causing the mold.
What to do, where to go?
The Beacon met the mother Dec. 4 in the parking lot of a Big Lots store where she had parked after the pediatrician told her not to go home.
Rox-Anne Williams brought the matter to The Beacon’s attention. Williams runs a youth group, the Heart of Excellence, that’s been working with families in DeLand, including those in Laurel Villas. Williams was worried about the family’s health.
When The Beacon met her, the mother had just taken her baby to the doctor’s office.
“The baby had lung issues already,” she said. “I have to be very careful.”
She had stopped in the Big Lots parking lot in DeLand, unsure of what to do next or where to go.
“I feel cornered,” she said.
Her other children, ages 5, 8 and 11, were at school. Two of them have health and developmental problems, including a host of allergies. The mother has asthma.
She spends her days taking children to and from school, doctors, and occupational and physical therapy.
The children would usually play in the garage instead of outdoors, because of their allergies, their mother said. Now, the mold smell and probably mold spores come into the apartment every time the door is opened.
The family has lived in the apartment for about a year, and had not experienced this problem before Thanksgiving.
Since then, the baby was becoming “sicker and sicker,” the mother said.
She gets child support from the father of the three older children, and Social Security assistance related to the children’s disabilities. The baby’s father is unemployed and unable to help financially, though he’s helped her with care for the baby, she said, but couldn’t help them with a place to live.
Thanks to the efforts of Lisa Hamilton of the Volusia-Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless, the family has been staying at a motel.
Mold-treatment specialist Christensen said the next step should be to clean the walls in the garage with something that will kill mold, but not harm the children. He recommended using something as simple as Dawn dish detergent or Murphy’s Oil Soap. Then, he said, the wall should be painted with Kilz paint, which will encapsulate and kill any remaining mold.
Christensen took an air-quality sample in the apartment’s kitchen. He will have test results this week.
Quinones at the Housing Authority, after learning of Christensen’s findings and recommendations, said on Dec. 6 she will take up the matter with management company Picerne.
Neither she nor Hefman at Picerne returned calls the following day.
A happier-sounding mother called, however. The management company had called her.
“They said they would be recleaning and painting the apartment today,” she said.
Another night or two out of the apartment would be good, to let the paint fumes subside before the children go back, she said.
Hamilton of the Homeless Coalition promised whatever help possible.
“The coalition will cover this mom — a mom with children who have significant health needs,” she said.
The agency will provide lodging until the apartment is OK for the family’s return, or another apartment is found.
She said the mother is “doing everything right” to take care of her children.
Hamilton said getting people to safe and stable locations in time of crisis is part of the coalition’s mission. Anyone who would like to donate can call her at 386-279-0029. Visit online at www.vfcch.org.
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