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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Public housing tenant stuck in apartment with toxic mold

Rosedale Manor is on Spring Lane in Bailey's Crossroads.
Linda Pelligrino has been sickened by the toxic mold that has contaminated her apartment in the Rosedale Manor complex in Bailey’s Crossroads but can’t get the Fairfax County Housing Department to fix the problem or move her to another unit. The complex is in the Public Housing Rental Program operated by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority and offers below-market rents to eligible lower-income tenants.

Pelligrino’s ground-floor apartment floods during heavy rains, causing an extremely toxic form of black mold, stachybotrys chartarum, to form inside the walls. The mold actually eats through the drywall, and the spores become airborne, which has worsened Pelligrino’s asthma and allergies and caused skin rashes. She also thinks the mold could have caused the skin cancer on her hand.
Flooding outside Pelligrino's apartment.
According to Pelligrino, the flooding is caused by blocked gutters on the roof. Water seeps inside the walls and at one point, has gotten as high as six inches, completely soaking the carpet and ruining thousands of dollars worth of possessions, including expensive textbooks. “If you ignore a problem, it become gross negligence and eventually it becomes a health issue,” she said.

In response to questions from the Annandale Blog, Fairfax County spokesperson Stacy Patterson said the flooding and mold problems have been fixed, and a “third-party inspection team has verified that air quality is within normal levels and her unit is safe for habitation,” so “we do not see a need to provide Ms. Pelligrino with alternative living arrangements.”

The Housing Department has still not officially responded to Pelligrino’s request. ‘They never got back to me and told me they are refusing to rent me another apartment,” she said.

“They did take care of the indoor flooding but there is an outdoor flooding problem that has been going on for seven years or so,” Pelligrino said. Despite repeated requests to clean leaves out of the gutter, which is causing the water buildup, it has not been done.

She also questions the thoroughness of the work done to remedy the problem inside the apartment. A neighbor told her the work only took two hours, so instead of replacing the drywall and getting rid of the mold inside, she thinks the workers just repainted the wall.

When Pelligrino first complained about the mold in the fall of 2011, the housing office put her in a hotel, only it took three weeks for that to happen and meanwhile she contracted a severe lung infection and was hospitalized. During the winter of 2012 she still had chest pains and had to find a temporary place to live while still paying for an uninhabitable apartment. The housing office refused to give her a refund for the rent for that period.

She’s also had nausea for years, which she thinks might have been caused by gas leaks in her old stove. At one point, a neighbor smelled gas in the middle of the night and woke her up. “I could have died,” she said. The apartment manager finally installed a new stove after she complained repeatedly.

Mold under the sink.
“It’s an old building that is not being properly maintained,” she said. Many other tenants have problems with rats and bedbugs, she said. According to Pelligrino, she is the only tenant without bedbugs and that’s because she hired someone to put in new caulking. “I shouldn’t have to hire someone to do what maintenance should do,” she said.

Pelligrino, a former opera singer who performed in Europe with the National Christian Choir, can no longer work due to injuries from domestic violence. And that means she can’t afford to move. Because her housing is subsidized, she pays just $459 a month for a one-bedroom apartment at Rosedale Manor. The average monthly rental rate for a one-bedroom apartment in Fairfax County is $1,268.

Her message to the county: “Get me the hell outa here.”

“I’ll take them to court if I have to,” Pelligrino said. “This is ridiculous. This is not going to go away.”

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