PASCO COUNTY, Fla — In recent months, 10 Tampa Bay has heard from people across our area dealing with poor living conditions in low-income housing. This was sparked by our coverage of Silver Oaks Apartments in East Tampa.
Residents reported mold, broken appliances and sewage back-ups. It wasn't until the spur of multiple local media outlets' coverage that lead to tenants beginning to see change.
"Me living in mold, I cannot accept it, and I will not accept it," Vonnesha King said. King became the face of mold-related issues and took her concerns to the camera and to lawmakers.
Senator Marco Rubio has advocated for low-income housing complexes that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to be inspected more regularly and more frequently.
"Frankly, HUD stopped talking to us and answering our questions," Rubio said. "Which is outrageous. But we’re going to keep the pressure on them and that’s what we’ve done in the past."
The same property management company, Cambridge Management Inc., owns Silver Oaks and has properties across the state of Florida. Rubio has reached out to HUD about Cambridge Management Inc. previously for poor living conditions at one of their Jacksonville properties.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble getting HUD to take it seriously but we’re hoping to make some progress here... Nobody should be living in these conditions, especially if the taxpayers are paying for it," Rubio said.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations received complaints about Silver Oaks describing plumbing back-ups of human feces and continual mold growth.
“It makes me sad that we have to keep going through this and they don’t understand," King said.
Now, tenants are seeing improvements, new appliances and fixtures. The most recent report shows the complex "met inspection standards."
Others took note of the changes-- and reached out for help.
Doreen Kelsey lives in Hudson Ridge Apartments in Pasco County. She receives Section 8 housing vouchers, which are applied to her rent costs. Kelsey noticed a moldy smell the first day she moved in and has been trying to get the concern addressed for months. Her son, Michael Walach has been hospitalized multiple times and Kelsey suspected it was the mold to blame.
"Michael started going to the hospital on January 17. They diagnosed him with pneumonia and rhinovirus the first time," Kelsey said.
Kelsey repeatedly asked her complex to test for mold. She said they denied her requests, so she bought her own at-home mold testing kits. The samples were sent to a testing company to determine if there was mold and what types were present.
"...They wrote me back and found three different types of mold, all different, caused by moisture in the air," Kelsey said. The report showed Aspergillus spp., Aureobasidium spp. and Cladosporium spp. were detected in her home.
With promises of resolutions from her apartment management company, Kelsey reached out to the Pasco County Housing Authority. The response was not immediate, but Kelsey was able to get an inspection scheduled for her unit.
The inspection resulted in a "fail rating'" with her complex given 30 days to address the issues.
"It’s more than frustrating," Kelsey said.
Kelsey fears losing her housing or losing her section 8 vouchers over her requests to get the mold removed.
"We’re not in that position to have money to move out again," she said.
While Richman Property Services, the company that owns Hudson Ridge apartments, has not responded to our requests for comment, Kelsey said they have stepped up to help since an inspection was scheduled.
On Wednesday, she is moving into a hotel for a week, paid for by the apartment complex. During that time, maintenance is removing and replacing walls where mold is a concern and inspecting the HVAC system.
What makes concerns like Kelsey's all the more difficult is that Florida doesn't have mold regulation laws that hold landlords liable.
So what should you do?
If your apartment management isn't helping, Florida Housing says to reach out to them directly. Your county housing authority and HUD can also help.
Click here to contact the Florida Housing Authority.
To contact HUD:
Miami Field Office
Brickell Plaza Federal Building
909 SE First Avenue
Miami, FL 33131-3028
LUIS M. ROLLE
Field Office Director
Jacksonville Field Office
Charles East Bennett Federal Building
400 West Bay Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Field Office Director
Click here to contact your county housing authority.