Beacon of Hope NY, an organization that helps residents recover from Hurricane Sandy, along with elected officials held a press conference Saturday to discuss steps in the uphill battle to address mold issues on Staten Island.
Nine months after Sandy hit the tristate area mold has still taken over many homes in the borough.
Since Sandy, South Beach Civic Association President Joseph McAllister's watched much of his neighborhood devolve into a moldy ghost town.
"Sometimes at night, you can smell the mold in the air," he said.
New York City's dedicated $15 million from both public and private sources to getting rid of that mold at no cost to the homeowner. Unfortunately, many of the homes needing cleaning have been abandoned because people can't afford to pay the bank or fix them up.
"They're leaving," McAllister said. "They don't know what to do."
Only a homeowner can sign up for the city's cleaning services, so McAllister and other local leaders must work to track down those with empty homes and then convince them to report the mold growing within.
"It's a big challenge," said Scott McGrath with Beacon of Hope New York, "because the bank's threatening people with foreclosure so they say: Alright, I've had it."
Leaders like City Councilman James Oddo understand some gray area exists surrounding the actual health effects of living next to a house filled with black mold. He also understands property laws make gaining permission to scrub abandoned homes difficult. Oddo just wants a little empathy from the city's health department.
"Come here and show that you are a partner in government with us and you want to help these folks," he said.
The water's receded and in many places rebuilding is well underway, but on Staten Island nine months after Sandy, feelings of abandonment and a rampant case of black mold remain.
"This country bails out every other country when they need help," McGrath said. "They send that money out like [crazy], but when it's coming to New York it seems like we get stonewalled."
In a meeting with Staten Island's elected representatives, Thursday, the health department said it couldn't declare mold enough of an emergency to enter homes without an owner's permission, but it would investigate reports of rats, standing water and mosquitos.