City Council hears about apartment complex concerns
Megan Lambson suspected her apartment had a mold problem when she moved in.
Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson Megan Lambson shows a photo of the mold problem in the apartment she moved out of.
The unit at Hidden Creek Apartments in Crescent City sported a fresh coat of paint, but Lambson saw a line of bleach on the carpet in the master bedroom and smelled a musty odor.
“The carpet itself was bleached,” Lambson said. “The HUD inspector said, ‘I definitely smell something, keep an eye out for it.’”
Problems with mold in subsidized housing were aired at a Nov. 19 meeting of the City Council, which also acts as the Crescent City Housing Authority Board.
Del Norte’s moist climate makes it especially susceptible to mold in any building, a county environmental health official said. In fact, tenants could not move into one recently built apartment building right away because of mold.
Lambson and her 3-year-old daughter Harper moved into the Hidden Creek Apartments on June 1 using a voucher from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was one of the few low-income apartment complexes that she felt comfortable in, she said, and it was within walking distance of her mother’s house.
Mold started appearing in the bathroom near the air conditioner’s overflow valve, Lambson said. She found it underneath the carpet. In some cases, Lambson said, it appeared that someone had painted over it.
When she told the apartment manager about the mold problem, Lambson said she was initially told to use a dehumidifier. She did, but said the problem persisted, so apartment management brought in a second dehumidifier. Lambson estimated that running both dehumidifiers added $10 to $15 a month to her power bill.
It wasn’t until Lambson found mold underneath her carpet that she was relocated to another building. She moved into her new unit two weeks ago.
“I would have done everything I can to prevent the mold,” Lambson said. “I didn’t want my daughter to be around it if there was a way to prevent it. There was nothing I could have done to prevent this.”
Lambson also brought the mold problem to the attention of District 1 County Supervisor Leslie McNamer and Crescent City Councilwoman Kelly Schellong.
Sacramento-based CFY Development Inc. built Hidden Creek Apartments on Scenic Creek Drive in 2008 using a $1.6 million loan from the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program. The 80-unit complex, which sits behind Walmart, offers two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments and several handicapped-accessible units.
Rent is based on income level, according to apartment manager Jackie Guerrero. While several HUD clients live at Hidden Creek Apartments, the apartments are available to everyone, Guerrero said.
CFY Development built another apartment complex near Hidden Creek Apartments last year called Summer Park Apartments. The developer built the new complex using a loan of more than $5 million from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. According to Crescent City Housing Authority Director Megan Miller, although Summer Park is new, it has had its share of mold problems too.
At the Nov. 19 meeting of the City Council/Housing Authority Board, when Schellong questioned her, Miller said two to three tenants who were due to move into Summer Park Apartments in October had to be relocated to another building because of mold.
“When they brought the problem to our attention, the complex relocated them to other units,” she said. “Once the repairs were completed the tenants had a choice of whether they wanted to return to the unit they had chosen or stay in the ones they were relocated to.”
Miller said the Housing Authority has helped a few of its clients find housing at Hidden Creek and Summer Park apartments. She said she couldn’t speak to any specific tenant issue because HUD is a confidential program, but added that any HUD participant, landlord or manager can contact the Housing Authority to inspect the premises.
If the unit does not pass inspection, the Housing Authority would determine who is responsible for making repairs and give them 30 days to do so, according to Miller. After that, if the unit can’t pass inspection, the Housing Authority grants one extension before taking action. If the landlord is at fault, the Housing Authority would stop payment to him or her, Miller said. If the tenant was at fault, the Housing Authority would take steps to terminate assistance.
“Right now we have 575 assisted families so there’s probably about 250 landlords,” Miller said. “Our jurisdiction is the whole county.”
CFY Development noticed the mold at Summer Park Apartments during construction, Guerrero said, and installed dehumidifiers to help solve the problem. Guerrero, who watched the video recording of the Nov. 19 Council meeting, said the mold complaint is something that she is well aware of.
“These are isolated events,” she said. “It is not happening in every unit. With our climate mold can happen anywhere.”
The apartments are inspected every six months, Guerrero said. Management can also inspect units on short notice if there is an immediate problem. But keeping mold at bay isn’t just the responsibility of the management. It’s tenants’ responsibility to make sure their apartment is properly ventilated, she said.
Guerrero said she spoke with representatives of CFY Development and added that they are addressing a letter to the Housing Authority in response to the comments made at the Nov. 19 meeting.
“They made us look like slum landlords,” she said, referring to Schellong’s comments. “It’s really important that everybody knows we don’t expect anyone to live in conditions we wouldn’t live in ourselves.”
CFY Development representatives were unavailable for comment Friday.
The health hazards
Mold can cause respiratory problems and an allergic reaction in extreme cases, said Brian McNally, a registered environmental health specialist with the Del Norte County Environmental Health Division.
In moist environments such as Del Norte County, many people often battle mold infestations, he said. If there is no moisture, mold can be killed with bleach and water.
Residents can prevent mold infestations by keeping their home dry, airing their home out during dry weather and purchasing dehumidifiers and emptying them when they get full, McNally said. If the problem is too difficult to handle, McNally said tenants should speak with their landlords.
“There’s nothing worse than someone who’s hyped up and ready to dig in their heels,” he said, adding that he is often called to mediate between landlords and tenants. “Once the heels are dug in progress stops. That’s when you bring lawyers in.”