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YOUNGSTOWN Upset tenants blame mold for illnesses



Published: Fri, August 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Managers are moving tenants who have complained to another location, an official at the management company said.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Tears form in the corners of her eyes when Tina Fizet speaks of her 18-month-old son, Nico.

"His eyes swell shut every time he comes in here," she said, waving a hand over the damp carpet of her apartment. "It would be nice if he could be at home where he belongs."

Nico can't stay here. Mold creeps up the corner of a closet wall in a bedroom. In another corner, the fungus has eaten holes in the wall.

Fizet, 24, moved into the ground-floor Valley View apartment on Tyrell Street with Nico and his two older sisters shortly after the baby was born.

She blames the mold for her baby's swollen eyes. Nico, she said, only has the problem when he is inside the apartment walls. Outside, or in other homes, he is fine.

Because he was so sick in the apartment, the boy lives with an aunt.

What's been done: Fizet and neighbors in the federally subsidized housing complex say they have complained to property managers. Moldy walls have been painted. Holes have been patched. Ground around the building was dug up and sealant put on the foundation, these residents say. The problem persists.

An official at Federal Management in Youngstown, the company that manages the Valley View apartments, said Thursday that managers are in the process of moving tenants who have complained to another location. She would not give her name and declined to elaborate.

There are 12 units in the building. A spokesman at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development office in Cleveland said no complaints had been received about the property. Rents of the units are subsidized by HUD monies.

Years of complaints: But Leslie Lawson, who has lived in Valley View apartments for 10 years, said it has taken four or five years of complaining to get the company to relocate her.

"I'm aggravated because it shouldn't have taken for me to be at the brink ... of doing something drastic," said Lawson, who also has three children. "Do you have to be half-dead for somebody to hear you?"

Lawson, 35, said her 11-year-old son, Christopher, developed asthma over the past two years. She blames the damp conditions.

She said rain runs in the windows of her ground-floor unit during storms. She has mold on windows and in corners and holes where the walls are softening.

Ventilation is difficult because windows are not sealed tightly and, when they're opened, silverfish, centipedes and other insects crawl in, she said.

Symptoms grow worse: Cheryl Speziale, 48, lives on the third floor. An asthma sufferer, she said symptoms have worsened since she moved into Valley View six years ago. She gets too winded to walk upstairs three stories without taking a break, and she has started using an inhaler, a nebulizer and medications.

Fizet said the dampness and mold destroyed photographs of her childhood and of her father, who died when she was a teen-ager. She and her daughters, Ashley, 6, and Anna, 4, sleep in the living room because they have difficulty breathing in their bedrooms. Fizet said she wakes up hoarse each morning.

She said the mold has also destroyed items she had brought into the apartment when she first moved in, excited to have a new home. New furniture, she said, became moldy three months after she removed the plastic.

"We've lost so much stuff financially," Fizet said, "and stuff that breaks your heart."

viviano@vindy.com




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