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Friday, September 29, 2023

Erica Brown’s 6-year-old son doesn’t understand why his family can’t go home.

Brown and her three young children have been living in a hotel since Monday because of a serious mold problem in her Horizon House apartment.

“It’s not even safe to go into the apartment, the smell is so horrid,” the 26-year-old single mother said. “I want a place where I can not be worried about things getting into the walls and into our lungs.”

She first noticed the problem last year, only a few months after moving into the complex located at 1515 NW 10th St.

Both she and her two daughters suffer from asthma, so after spotting mold on the ceiling of her bathroom, Brown immediately called maintenance. She was ignored for months. Finally, maintenance came by and discovered the toilet in the apartment upstairs was leaking. The worker sprayed the room with bleach and painted over the area.

Last week, Brown discovered black mold in the closet of the room her 4-year-old and 19-month-old daughters share.

Despite pleas to the landlord and maintenance staff, nothing was done. The complex offered to move her to another apartment, but after talking to neighbors, Brown realized it wouldn’t make a difference.

Resident Walette Mulberry, 38, has been battling mold since she moved into her apartment five years ago. Lately, it’s been getting worse.

Now, she and her two kids — ages 8 and 11 — sleep in the living room. One of the three bedrooms serves as their closet and changing areas. The other rooms are covered with mold.

Another resident, Onteria Lawrence, had to throw away boxes of clothing, a pile of DVDs and assorted dining room furniture because of mildew.

Her 4-year-old son, Timarkis Archie, played outside as Lawrence, 25, pushed a bureau down the stairway leading up to the second-story apartment she shares with her four children.

“I can’t afford to throw this away, but I got to,” Lawrence said. “Even my Bible, the Holy Bible, I have to throw away.”

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With no response from the complex, Brown decided to look for help elsewhere. She called the health department and the Gainesville Code Enforcement office but was told no one could help.

Brown found her son’s room overrun with green and black mold, surrounding the window frame and windowsill, creeping down to the baseboard.

Her son’s grandmother went to the office to confront the landlord and get a promise that Horizon House would provide a hotel room for Brown’s family.

But the complex didn’t come through. Brown’s been paying out of pocket.

That’s when Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls stepped in. A staff member at Brown’s older daughter’s school, Metcalfe Elementary, reached out to the commissioner.

“Mold can make people sick, you know,” Hinson-Rawls said. “When you’re living in an environment with mold, and you’re trying to raise a child, it has an effect on a child’s education, and I’m an educator at heart.”

A Code Enforcement officer came by to inspect Brown’s apartment Wednesday afternoon.

The officer found mold in her apartment, likely caused by humid conditions, according to an email from Code Enforcement division manager Christopher Cooper sent over the City of Gainesville Listserv. Apartment staff said they are aware of similar issues in three other apartments and offered to place all four families in a hotel while they conducted further tests, according to the email.

Horizon House Apartments declined to comment on the issue.

On Thursday afternoon, Lawrence cleaned, still waiting for someone to tell her where the family could stay while a mold remediation contractor looked at their apartment.

“Even a dog doesn’t deserve to live like this, and we’re human beings,” she said.

A version of this story ran on page 1 on 1/10/2014 under the headline "Families battling apartment mold"

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