There are several patches of mold spores growing on the ceiling of Michelle Robinson’s public housing unit in Southbridge section of Wilmington, and she said she’s getting little to no help in finding a solution to the problem.
Robinson moved into a unit in the 900 block of C Street, where she said she began to notice mold that she reported to the Wilmington Housing Authority (WHA).
Fast forward two years later, and she’s still living there, with her 27-year-old son with autism, and so is the mold.
“The conditions of the previous house are deplorable. With the mold and mold spores, you go in, your eyes are burning, you’re breaking out in hives, you can’t breathe, it’s very deplorable.”
Robinson said the WHA eventually did come to try to help, but that help came in the form of bleach for the spores, paint to cover them, a dehumidifier, and a bathroom fan she said was installed in reverse, worsening the problem.
“The symptoms began with headaches. From there, there were upper respiratory infections that led to sinus infections, hospital stays, breathing problems that forced me to go to a CPAP machine. [I'm on] all kind of medications for allergies, infections, antibiotics, medications for stomach problems, water eyes, and memory loss. There have been a lot of times I’ve been getting confused, and I can’t remember what I’ve done.”
She said the WHA did an environmental report on her home in January, but didn’t learn the results until April. There was another test on WHA’s 180 Southbridge units in August, but she was struggling to learn the results.
The Wilmington Housing Authority released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying the preliminary conclusion reveals that a majority of the houses in Southbridge do not have increased mold counts. There are 15 which they believe require further investigation and a targeted response, which the report will be completed in the next week. They call the hot spots “individualized circumstances.”
Robinson first reached out to the law office of Biggs & Battaglia, but after being displeased with their assistance in her case, began to push local advocate Herman Holloway, Jr. for help.
Two weeks ago, Holloway paid for Robinson and her son to move out of the house with mold, and into a local motel, at the cost of $600 a week, an amount he wants reimbursed by the WHA when the situation is resolved.
Robinson said she’s noticed some improvement in her health since moving to the motel.
“The last two weeks the headaches have subsided a little. I haven’t had the sinus infection be as bad as it was."
But that doesn’t solve everything, Robinson’s job at Saint Francis Hospital had to be sacrificed as her health deteriorated.
“I lost my job because I was ill, and I had to resign from the position as a certified nurse’s assistant because I was ill.”
While this has been going on, the WHA said they got back to Robinson’s attorney on October 17, 2019, with a list of six options.
The lower Bucks County native said some of the options were simply unacceptable.
“I had to go see the places first--I’m not familiar with this area--I canvased the neighborhood just to find out how the neighborhood was. The one that was located on Washington [Street], I took a picture of that area where they told me I could live, showing a drug deal right in front of the Wilmington Housing Authority.”
One option that did eventually sprout for Robinson was presented on the 1300 block of North DuPont Street, coincidentally a place where Holloway Jr.’s mother-in-law once resided.
Early Thursday, she said she accepted that location after the lengthy delay, and the WHA said they will be testing the unit for mold on Monday.
As for Holloway, he said he is ready to keep pressing the Wilmington Housing Authority on the mold at their Southbridge properties.
“I wish I could walk away and be done with all of this, but from what I have learned from this report, once she’s set, what about the other people? The Housing Authority will keep doing it the way they’ve been doing it, saying okay, we’ll take care of it, spray bleach on it and paint over it, and come back when it comes back.”
Robinson might be on her way to an amicable situation, but given she fought over 27 months to get to this point, she’s hoping she can be a guide for the future.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through. I feel like we pay our rent and do what we’re supposed to do as a community, we should be treated equal just like anyone else. We shouldn’t have to be treated because we live in a low-income [like] we’re below any other standards. It’s not fair. I feel like I had to fight not just for me, but for my son, and also for those who are scared because they think if they talk, housing will put them on the streets.”
“We are, and will always remain, committed to providing safe, decent, and affordable housing to the low-income families of our city. It is a responsibility we take seriously, and these types of complaints are treated quickly and with the utmost respect for our residents and our health," said WHA Executive Director John Hill, in a written statement.
The agency also plan to circulate a mold prevention brochure to all of their residents over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Robinson is ready to get out of her moldy place, her motel room, and get back to life.