January 28, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco and Marc Bussanich
Despite the valiant efforts of Occupy Sandy volunteers and others who helped residents throughout New York City clean out storm-ravaged homes following Hurricane Sandy, a new coalition of labor, community and clergy is demanding that Mayor Michael Bloomberg seek out FEMA funds to have the job done professionally.
"There is no solution to the mold crisis that has been going on in communities affected by Sandy all over the city and the region," New York Communities for Change (NYCC) organizer Jonathan Westin recently told supporters on the steps of City Hall.
While grassroots groups beat federal disaster specialist to the punch in rendering aid to devastated communities from Annadale to Far Rockaway, Westin and his supporters content that the mold problem is far from eradicated, and, in fact, continues to pose significant health hazards to many low- and moderate-income residents.
"What we need is action," Westin said. "The only way this is going to get to scale, the only way we are going to be able to alleviate mold in people's homes, which is growing every single day, is if this mayor creates the program that works with community organizations, labor, clergy and other people affected by this crisis."
The coalition behind the "Back Home, Back to Work" initiative says that 600 skilled union workers are now ready to be deployed throughout the region to help wipe out stubborn mold still growing inside affected homes and apartments.
"We're here today in support of the other New York – the silent New York," said Edison Severino, business manager for Laborers Local 78.
Local 78's 3,000-plus members are well-trained, licensed environmental workers who specialize in mold remediation, as well as asbestos removal, lead abatement and other hazardous work.
"We saw that after Sandy hit, thousands of our members and countless other workers poured downtown to bring back the financial district," Severino said. That was great. We took care of Wall Street. Right now, it's time to take care of Main Street. It's unconscionable that three months after Sandy, we still don't have a response and a solution for poor communities, and middle class communities that are suffering today."
Roughly $50 billion in federal disaster relief funding is about to be divvied up, but grassroots organizations throughout New York and New Jersey fear that they will be denied a place at the table when decisions about how those funds are used, are ultimately decided.
"I have not been able to return home to Oakwood Beach, Staten Island since Hurricane Sandy because my house is infested with mold and completely uninhabitable," said Cynthia Scarcella, a community leader with Make the Road New York. "Contractors can be expensive. I've tried calling [New York City’s] Rapid Repairs [program] and have relied on the help of volunteers to help me clean, but the mold keeps coming back. I would welcome the opportunity for reliable, affordable assistance through a quality mold remediation program."
In addition to providing a highly-trained and experienced workforce, Severino said that his group would also be able to trade members of the community in proper mold remediation procedures.
"Labor and community united can do it right the first time," Severino said. "Volunteers don't know what they are being exposed to, and are unable to fix the problem at its root. We have the training, the knowledge and the know-how to make sure we bring New York back, and that our communities get the justice and health that they need."
One worried man from Far Rockaway wondered what the longterm effects of mold exposure might be.
"I think the mayor should address this problem before it gets worst," he said. "We don't want to be become casualties years later."