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Seniors with Mold-Plagued Homes Confused by City's Conflicting Messages

By Meredith Hoffman | December 19, 2012 12:25pm

GREENPOINT — Seniors with mold in their homes after Hurricane Sandy's flooding say the city has led them through confusing hoops in attempts to get aid.

Lily Rodriguez, 65, whose dwelling on Eagle Street was flooded by Newtown Creek during the hurricane, asked FEMA and other officials Monday night at a Sandy recovery information session for residents affected by the storm to help her find a way to eliminate the mold in her ground-floor apartment. 

"We can't afford to clean it up ... I went to my insurance, but they won't pay for it," Rodriguez told officials. "My husband is 80 years old and has cancer, so we have to spend our money on that.

"My grandkids used to play down there, but now there's no way for them to go down there," she added. "Who's going to clean it?"

City officials at the meeting gave Rodriguez a mix of responses, from telling her she needed to apply for a small business loan to saying the city could not help her with the problem.

Nazli Parvizi, commissioner of the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit, confirmed there was nothing the city could do to help Rodriguez.

"Unfortunately, there's not a city agency that deals with it," Parvizi said, admitting that many homeowners had come to her with the same request. "It's hard. I have to stare people in the face and tell them there's nothing we can do ... It's the homeowner's responsibility."

But officials from FEMA and from the U.S. Small Business Administration said that Rodriguez and others might qualify for aid if they applied for a small business loan.

Willie Nunn, the FEMA officer at the meeting, said that since Rodriguez had already received an initial FEMA inspection and aid for other structural problems in her home after Sandy, she would have to apply for an SBA loan.

"After your first home inspection, you need to fill out an SBA application. And if you don't, you may not get FEMA assistance," he said.

Nunn explained Rodriguez would not have to take the loan, but that she just had to apply.

"It's because of our partnership [with SBA]," he said, adding that the SBA application allowed the government to check if she qualified for aid.

Rodriguez's neighbors Juan and Elizabeth Falcon, who also sought help at the meeting, said they had faced similar struggles in trying to eliminate their mold.

"I'm disabled, so I can't do it myself," said Falcon. "And we just can't afford it."

At the end of the meeting, another FEMA representative walked Rodriguez and the Falcons out of the building and told them to call 311 the next day, the residents said.

"They told me to call 311," Rodriguez said, shaking her head. "I'm upset, but I can't spend money on this because my husband's sick. His health is more important."