by Greg B. Smith for The New York Daily News

December 18, 2012

The mold in public housing tenant Patricia Gorritz's apartment got so bad for her asthmatic children, the city Health Department ordered NYCHA to clean it immediately.

A year later, NYCHA has done nothing to keep the mold from coming back again and again.

On Tuesday, Gorritz will join other frustrated tenants in an action against the authority for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act — on the grounds that asthma is a disability.

The formal "request for accommodation" by the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council will demand NYCHA fix the mold problem or face litigation in federal court.

"It's gone from bad to worse with officials not responding to our complaints and not fully resolving the issues," said Ray Lopez of the Little Sisters for the Assumption, one of the groups working with tenants.

The city admits the mold is unacceptable.

By early 2011, Gorritz had been complaining for two years about mold in bedrooms that was so bad, she had to move two of three children into the living room. NYCHA painted over the mold five times without fixing the leak behind the wall that was causing the problem.

"It's a coverup," she said. "They said they have guidelines they have to follow and they said they won't have the money for repairs." The agency has a backlog of 338,000 repairs.

These conditions caught the attention of Elizabeth Drackett, a counselor with a Department of Health asthma program, who informed NYCHA that Gorritz's children, Naftali and Rebecca, had "severe persistent asthma."

"If the underlying water damage that caused the mold growth on the surfaces described in this report are not corrected, then mold growth on these surfaces can be expected to recur," Drackett told NYCHA. "We plead your immediate attention."

Gorritz got no response. NYCHA's nonresponse is familiar to thousands of NYCHA tenants, according to the Metro IFA groups.

In the South Bronx alone, the Little Sisters group has a file with 99 open mold complaints dating to 2005.

One tenant, Maribel Baez, 43, lives in the Melrose Houses in the South Bronx. She said her asthma is aggravated by a resilient layer of mold on her bathroom ceiling.

At one point NYCHA sent in workers in white suits and masks and told her and her children to leave. Since then, they send a janitor to paint over the problem.

"My cough started getting worse and worse," she said.

The mold issue has vexed NYCHA tenants for years. In early 2011 Metro IAF met with NYCHA Chairman John Rhea, but nothing came of it.

Health Department officials said they've received complaints about 99 apartments in the last four years and 73 have been repaired, usually within 30 days.

"Most of the roughly 100 issues identified in NYCHA housing over four years, such as mold and dust, were resolved within a few weeks after they were raised," an agency spokesman said.

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