The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Woman with Asthma, Liver Infections Has Waited Months for NYCHA Mold Repair

By Allegra Hobbs | August 31, 2016 5:58pm
 Yolanda Donato claims she has been living with two moldy holes in her bathroom wall since April 2016.
Yolanda Donato claims she has been living with two moldy holes in her bathroom wall since April 2016.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

LOWER EAST SIDE — A woman who suffers from asthma and health problems stemming from multiple liver transplants may finally breathe freely as NYCHA promises to address leaks, mold and two gaping holes in her bathroom wall — more than a year after she first complained about the purportedly hazardous conditions.

Yolanda Donato, a resident of the Jacob Riis Houses for nearly four decades, said she has been battling with NYCHA since early 2015 over plumbing leaks and suspected mold in her bathroom.

But Donato said the problem became significantly worse in April 2016 when a maintenance worker sent to examine the problems smashed in the bathroom wall in two places to reach the pipe below, exposing mold beneath the walls and leaving the bathroom in disrepair — conditions NYCHA has refused to address despite her filing numerous complaints, said Donato.

“I’ve gone to the office six times,” said Donato in Spanish, through a translator. “They say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to fix it,’ but they never fix it.”

The leaking pipe is currently plastered over with duct tape.

In June, Donato underwent a second liver transplant — her first was in 2013 — and has had a difficult time recovering from the procedure, likely because of the mold in the bathroom walls, she claims.

“I had to go to the hospital four times…I had an infection,” she said, adding she suspects the post-surgery infections were caused or exacerbated by unsanitary conditions in her bathroom.

“My doctor asked me, ’Is your home ok?’ and I said, ‘Well, no, there’s a hole and there’s mold.’ And he said, ‘That’s not good, you can’t have that.’”

Donato’s doctor then penned a note for her to take to NYCHA explaining his patient’s delicate condition and requesting the agency work quickly to get rid of any mold.

“Following a liver transplant, patients are on a lifelong medication regiment, with ongoing follow-up appointment and their immune system is compromised,” reads the letter, dated Aug. 11, from Mount Sinai Transplant hematologist Thomas Schlano, MD. “They just take very good care of themselves, including eating well and living in a safe and sanitary environment.

"There is a report of mold in Ms. Donato’s bathroom, and we are requesting that this is cleaned and repaired as soon as possible. Please accept this letter as a medical priority.”

But NYCHA only jumped into action Wednesday afternoon — nearly three weeks later — after neighborhood groups hosted a press conference outside the houses calling attention to the problem and DNAinfo New York submitted an inquiry.

“NYCHA staff are on site now addressing the situation. They will inspect the apartment for mold and abate where necessary. The leak coming from inside the bathroom wall will be repaired tonight, followed by plastering tomorrow to cover the hole,” said NYCHA spokeswoman Zodet Negron. “We apologize for the impact this has had on the resident and are working to prevent this from happening again.”

Meanwhile, a NYCHA rep maintained staff are unaware of any mold in Donato’s bathroom, but would look into it while repairing the wall. 

The lapse in repair work has persisted despite a 2013 court order stating NYCHA must carry out “simple repairs” related to mold and excessive moisture within seven days and conduct “more complex repairs” within 15 days.

A federal judge in 2015 then appointed a “special master” to ensure NYCHA was complying with the court order after finding the agency had failed to fix mold problems in a timely manner, and criticized NYCHA officials for “indifference” in addressing the problem.

Now, community groups such as the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS) — of which Donato herself is a member — and Luchadoras de Loisaida are calling on NYCHA and Mayor de Blasio to make good on the years-old settlement. 

“For us, this is the beginning of an effort to bring in people to enforce the court order,” said Michael Lalan of NMASS, adding his group has received dozens of calls from NYCHA tenants reporting similar problems. “We believe that mold is a serious problem.”

NYCHA residents will take their cause to City Hall on Sept. 2 at 11 a.m., when they will rally to demand officials act quickly to address hazardous conditions in NYCHA buildings.

A mayoral spokesman did not comment on the matter, instead directing DNAinfo New York to NYCHA representatives.