HAMILTON, Ohio — Thirteen residents of Henry Long Tower apartments in Hamilton have gone to the emergency room with respiratory problems during the last week in a half, according to a resident who spoke about issues at the complex during Wednesday's Hamilton City Council meeting.
Black mold at Henry Long Tower is a problem, according to resident Paul Trinka.
“The building has major black mold in the apartments,” Trinka said. “It’s coming in from the furnaces and air-conditioning units. It’s on the walls, the ceilings and everything.”
The building, located at 150 South B Street, has also had issues with cockroaches and bed bugs,Trinka said.
The 128-apartment building was without heat at least a couple straight days recently, and one resident’s brother believes that led to a severe cough she had, along with other health issues, that sent her to Fort Hamilton Hospital.
Her doctor does not want her to return to the tower because of that and other health issues, Ken Gillum, brother of resident Sue Woodlee, told the Journal-News.
The Butler Metropolitan Housing Authority has been “moving people from the worst ones to better parts of the building,” Trinka said. “In the past week and a half, 13 people from the building (have) had to go to the emergency room for respiratory problems.”
Trinka said crews at the tower have been “masking the problem by painting over the mold.”
City officials were concerned enough that they sent a video of Trinka’s comments to the housing authority.
Housing Authority Executive Director Ben Jones said he was startled by what he heard. Trinka has been corresponding with an official from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who was unavailable to comment with the Journal-News on Thursday, which was Veterans Day.
Calls to the city’s health department were not answered Thursday, with offices closed for the holiday.
“There was some stuff in there that I honestly didn’t know, or has not been reported to us, about the 12 taken to the hospital,” Jones said. “So I’m going to have to do some digging on that one and see what’s going on there.”
“Whenever we get a report of mold, we investigate it and take care of the issue as quickly as we can,” Jones said. The building has been using a company called SERVPRO to remove mold.
Asked about Trinka’s statement that residents are being moved from apartments with a lot of mold to others with less of it, Jones said: “Not knowing exactly what transfers have taken place, I honestly couldn’t, I don’t want to say something wrong. I don’t want to give an incorrect statement.”
If it turns out black mold is prevalent in the seven-story building that looks out on the Great Miami River, “That one, I don’t know,” what will be done, Jones said. “We’ve got to do our due diligence and figure out what’s what. I don’t have an emergency plan that says ‘Mold throughout the building.’”
Trinka, 50, said he went to the emergency room last week because, “I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing hard,” he said. He has COPD.
“The ceiling in my bedroom is covered with black mold,” he said.
Gillum, who lives in suburban Columbus, said his sister Sue, 74, moved into the tower two years ago, “and at the time, Henry Long Towers looked like it was an OK place — seemed like it was maintained and so forth.”
He didn’t visit for more than a year during the COVID-19 pandemic. He recently noticed she had roaches, and “she had to fight them all the time,” he said.
“Then the second phase, it was nothing but bed bugs, which infested her apartment,” he said. “She had to get rid of a brand-new couch, a brand-new chair. She was without heat for four days when we had that cold snap in October.”
On Oct. 27, she fell, hit her head, and was taken to Kettering Health Hamilton, formerly Fort Hamilton Hospital. She was taken Thursday to Huntington Court, a rehab center.
“The doctor told her, ‘You’re not going back there. That is not good for your health,’” Gillum said. Aside from the mold and the insects, another reason the physician didn’t want her to return was her current inability to do things on her own, Gillum said.
Since the lack of heat, “she has this terrible, terrible cough,” he said.
“I do know infestations are a problem at that building, and we’ve been working with PestCo, our pest-control company, to help address that,” Jones said. “They’ve actually brought on an additional person to help address the issue.”
“Part of this problem, not all of it, is during COVID, some people didn’t want anybody in their unit,” Jones said. “They were scared to death, as everybody was. Then we’re not getting in there, so we’re not seeing the issues that can be dealt with when they’re small problems, and now they’re big problems, and the fall is the time when the bugs want to come into the building.”
He said the heat was out for a time because the heating/air-conditioning contractor couldn’t get a welder they needed to do the repair in the building that dates to the early 1970s. But, “we distributed space heaters to anyone that wanted one, or several, to help alleviate the problem.”
Hope in coming years
There may be hope for improvements in coming years, Jones said.
“We’re working on a major revitalization project that will do either a substantial rehabilitation or tearing down and rebuilding about 700 apartments in Hamilton and Middletown,” Jones said. The Rental Assistance Program lets public-housing units use private money through a tax-credit program.
“HUD has historically underfunded the capital side of things, so all of our properties are feeling the effects of that,” Jones said. That could bring in “a significant amount of cash that HUD’s never going to be able to give us.”
The housing authority has 1,138 units, about half in Hamilton and the rest in Middletown.
A housing-authority analysis found it had about $26 million in deferred capital needs, “and we had to figure out how best to address that, and this is a program that’s out there that lets us do that,” Jones said.
Construction may not happen for at least two years.
“This is not to say we are not going to work to address issues that are there now,” Jones said. “We have to. We have people living there. We want them to be safe. So that’s the overarching goal there.”