Red Hook Houses Tenants Say Mold, Water Damage Plaguing Complex

By Nikhita Venugopal on June 16, 2014 7:00am 

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 Residents of Brooklyn's largest public housing complex suffer from leaky pipes, mold and other issues that affect their health and living conditions, they say.
Water Damage Plagues Residents of Red Hook Houses
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RED HOOK — Terry Howard recently got out of bed and stepped into a pool of water that had collected on her floor. The single mother couldn’t hold back her tears. 

Since January, a leaky pipe has been trickling water into her bedroom in Red Hook Houses West, one of several problems plaguing tenants of Brooklyn’s largest housing complex.

Maintenance workers for the New York City Housing Authority told Howard that the leak stemmed from an upstairs apartment. But she said, despite attempts to repair the pipes, workers are merely “putting a Band-Aid on it” and the problem persists.

“I just wake up crying because every time I turn around, I’m stepping in water,” said Howard, 50, a patient transporter at Maimonides Medical Center.

She has spent almost her entire life in the public housing system. Her Bush Street apartment is decorated with plants and trinkets and furnished with modern appliances that she purchased herself.

But she could only place a pile of towels under the dripping pipe to prevent the spread of water throughout her apartment. 

In Howard’s bathroom, droplets of water collect on the ceiling and run along the walls, into a defunct plug socket and onto the mirror, toilet and sink. The electricity in the bathroom was recently shut off because of the water damage, she said. 

The leak is part of a laundry list of complaints from residents of the housing complex — ranging from mold growing on walls and a black soot-like powder collecting on windowsills to fumes from temporary boilers.

At a public hearing last week, tenants of the complex arrived in droves to speak out against their poor living conditions and the perceived lack of concern from NYCHA officials.  

“I’m tired of the B.S. that they give you,” Valerie Hill, a tenant of Red Hook Houses West, said at the meeting organized by City Comptroller Scott Stringer to address issues faced by Hurricane Sandy-affected neighborhoods.

Councilman Carlos Menchaca told DNAinfo New York that the city’s administration is currently reviewing ways in which NYCHA's accountability and response time can be addressed. 

“We’re throwing a lot of ideas on how we can be more proactive,” he said. “I have faith that NYCHA is listening to us.”

NYCHA spokeswoman Zodet Negron said in an email that the agency "has significantly improved response times for maintenance and repairs and, with new leadership and a customer-focused agenda, we will continue in that trajectory.” 

However, they did not address tenants' concerns about potential health hazards like mold and exhaust fumes, which residents believe are affecting their health. 

Multiple tenants at the meeting reported suffering from asthma and other respiratory syndromes, including Barbra Gifford, who said she keeps an oxygen tank in her bedroom to help her breathe, and Carol Mack, who noted her teenage daughter suffers from asthma.

Mold and air pollution can be triggers for asthma attacks, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Some studies show a high incidence of asthma in Red Hook. A 2002 neighborhood breakdown from the city's Department of Health showed an 8 percent rate of self-reported asthma prevalence in adults for the zip code 11231, which includes Red Hook — one of the highest in the city.

While there's a well-established link between asthma and the presence of dampness or a moldy odor, said Dr. Matt Perzanowski, an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University, it is unknown if that's the primary trigger for such respiratory illnesses.

Howard, who has been admitted to the hospital on several occasions because of her asthma, believes the pollutants are worsening her family’s health. One of her four children, 17-year-old Octavia, developed asthma last year.

“Nobody should be living in these conditions,” she said. 

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