Though it may not be high on your concern list in today’s terrifying times, please indulge me for a moment as I dispense the results of my research on a topic you may not want to know all that much about.
That topic is mold.
I don’t mean “mold” as a metaphor for the growing infestation of criminals and traitors in the highest ranks of our federal government and judiciary, though that wouldn’t be much of a leap.
I mean just plan old mold. Yes, that stuff under your sink.
Stay with me on this.
Mold is a specific type of microbe that feeds off dead or decaying animals and plants. It builds up in damp, warm places. You probably have some growing in your home right now, I’m sorry to say.
Molds are ubiquitous. They’re indoors, outdoors, floating through the air, mixing with dust. Many are harmless, but some molds pose serious health risks, from itchy eyes, migraines, and relentless coughing, to more dangerous things like breathing problems and chronic fatigue. And if you have asthma, long-term exposure to mold, day after day, can trigger endless and debilitating attacks.
It probably isn’t great during COVID-19 either.
And there are even worse repercussions from exposure to molds. There’s something called allergic broncho-pulmonary aspergillosis, a fungal infection in your lungs that causes all kinds of horrible and debilitating symptoms. There’s also allergic fungal sinusitis which produces ulcers in your nose and mouth, facial swelling, and impairs your ability to think. It screws with your brain chemistry. And it gets even worse than that. You thought mouth ulcers were bad? Wait for the fever and the facial paralysis.
Imagine going to the doctor thinking you’ve just got a little bug, and then finding out, “Nope! You’ve actually got allergic broncho-pulmonary aspergillosis!” You were unknowingly exposed to toxic mold someplace, maybe in your home or your office or classroom. Well, it doesn’t matter now anyway. You’ve got it. Get ready for mouth ulcers, and breathing difficulties, possibly for the rest of your life. And facial swelling! Don’t forget about facial swelling. On top of everything else, now you have to go out and buy bigger sunglasses.
Mold can be easily spotted and dealt with… sometimes. If it’s in your home, someplace visible, consider yourself lucky. You can see it, and you can deal with it. A little undiluted vinegar, or some bleach mixed with water, and wham-o! You’re done!
You can also smell mold, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be simple to locate. Especially if it’s inside your walls, or underneath your carpeting. If you live in a giant apartment building, it could be anywhere. It might not even be on the actual floor you live on, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you.
If I mention that mold is more of a problem in low and lower middle-class housing, and that often, it isn’t addressed – even if everyone in the building can smell it – and that it can cause a lifetime of health issues to both the young and the old living in the housing, would you be surprised?
And if that wouldn’t surprise you, then you probably wouldn’t be shocked if I told you that the mold situation in America’s public housing, is sadly, and not surprisingly, running rampant. American children are growing up in structures teeming with toxic mold that can give them lifelong medical problems, not to mention what it can do to elderly people with compromised immune systems, or just about anyone living there with pre-existing health care issues.
People in public housing have enough to worry about. Public housing in this country is synonymous with many unfortunate plagues like broken elevators, boilers that don’t kick on during winter months, ceilings caving in, wobbly stairs, rusted fire escapes, lead in the paint, loose bannisters. The people who live in these buildings probably don’t have time on their hands to also stop and think, “I wonder if the utility drains in this building are getting clogged up with microbes that feed off of decaying animals and might be permanently damaging my health or even killing me.” No, they don’t have time to worry about that. They have ten flights of stairs to climb.
Luckily, our government has a whole important branch devoted to addressing just this kind of thing. It’s called the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And it’s run by, wait for it…. Ben Carson! I feel better now. Don’t you? No allergic fungal sinusitis for people living in our public housing! We’ve got Ben Carson on the case. Come on, guys… the mold can’t get us all!”
One of the first low-income public housing projects in New York City is called the Throggs Neck Houses. You’ll find it in the South Bronx. It’s got Long Island Sound on one side, the East River on another. And if you jumped into the East River from Throggs Neck and swam west, about five miles later, you’d end up on the shores of Riker’s Island, where Son of Sam was imprisoned, and Mark David Chapman, the guy who shot John Lennon, plus many of your other favorite murderers and serial killers. This may be why you have no slides of Throggs Neck from your family vacations.
In Throggs Neck, you’ll find Throggs Neck Houses, an apartment complex and home to more than 2500 low-income New Yorkers who pay rents in accordance with how much they make for a living. Tenants make monthly contributions toward rent equal to 30% of their adjusted income. In 2018, the website “The Real Deal,” which focuses on New York real estate, ran a story on the city’s public housing, and it was good news, sorta. They were going to get rid of all the mold! This is what the article said at the time:
The Real Deal, November 30, 2018
“Thursday’s agreement sprang from a failed lawsuit settled in 2013. Metro Industrial Area Foundation, a housing advocacy nonprofit, had sued New York Central Housing Authority, claiming it had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to remove mold from apartments where tenants had respiratory issues such as asthma. As part of a settlement agreement, NYCHA had pledged to clean up the mold. But the housing authority has failed to do so.”
So the New York Housing Authority is definitely pledging to get rid of all the mold that might be making its residents sick. It’s for sure, 100% a pledge to do it. When will they do it? They’ll let you know. But don’t hold your breath, or if you’re living in a mold-infested public housing apartment, hold your breath a lot.
One of the more positive things to emerge from Throggs Neck Houses is current New York City Council Member for the 15th district, Ritchie Torres. Ritchie Torres grew up in Throggs Neck, in Throggs Neck Houses, along with his mother, his twin brother, his sister, and the mold.
You may have already heard of Ritchie Torres, because there’s a lot to tell. At 25 years old, Torres won the Democratic Party nomination for New York City Council, and upon doing so became the first openly gay political candidate in the Bronx to win the Democratic nomination. When he won the actual seat on the city council, he became the first openly gay public official in the Bronx, and the youngest elected city official. That was in 2013.
Last month, Ritchie Torres won the Democratic nomination for New York’s 15th congressional district, which includes the southern portion of the West Bronx and the South Bronx. The majority of the population in the district is Hispanic, and after that, African-American. Ritchie Torres is Afro-Latino. And if he wins this election to represent the people he grew up alongside, he will also become the first openly gay black Congressman in U.S. history.
As a child, growing up in Throggs Neck, Ritchie Torres experienced such horrible bouts with asthma as a result of the mold growing in the building where his family lived, he was hospitalized, repeatedly. In a campaign video, he says this about growing up in New York public housing:
“I grew up in public housing. I’m a son of the Bronx. I was raised by a single mother who had to raise three children on minimum wage, and I lived in conditions of mold and vermin, lead and leaks. And as I was living in these slum conditions, just across the street, the city was spending more than a hundred million dollars on a golf course for Donald Trump. And I remember asking myself, why would the city spend $100 million on a golf course, rather than on the homes of struggling New Yorkers like my mother. I knew at that moment that I had to fight for people like me.”
Mold, vermin, leaks, lead and Donald Trump. Sounds like an unbeatable hand in “Sociopathic Death Poker.”
After being elected to the city council in 2013, Ritchie Torres requested and received chairmanship of the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, tasked with overseeing NYCHA. The living conditions in these public housing apartments became one of his signature priorities,
Since that time, Ritchie Torres has exposed the city’s many failures to address lead-paint contamination and mold infestation. He helped secure three million dollars for Concourse Village, a nearly 1,900-unit housing cooperative located in the South Bronx. He has also been able to provide nearly a million dollars for renovating the Dennis Lane Apartments, in the heart of District 15.
Upon receiving word that the New York primary last week was heading in his favor, a very emotional Torres said the following: “It would be the honor of my life to represent this borough. It’s my home. And I would not be here today were it not for my mother. And the South Bronx is full of mothers like mine who have suffered and struggled and sacrificed so that her baby boy could have a better life than she did. And the opportunity to represent the essential workers of this borough, to represent the powerful mothers of this borough, it’s the culmination of a dream.”
Torres has successfully exemplified at a local level what he intends to do for his district if he is lucky enough to be elected a congressman in November. He plans to secure safer and more affordable housing with effective oversight (i.e. no mold), fight against racially concentrated poverty, promote reinvestment in public transit to revitalize the South Bronx, and improve health systems.
Isn’t Ritchie Torres the kind of candidate we all hope will step forward and offer to lead? Here we have a smart, capable, forward-thinking candidate who knows the concerns of his constituency first hand. He grew up surrounded by those concerns: concerns about whether or not the homes we live in might kill us, concerns about income inequality, concerns of minorities and the less financially capable being denied safe living conditions, concerns about basically being all but ignored by government. He possesses the little-seen ability in current-day politicians – mostly Trump boot lickers – to actually identify the problems that are staring us in the face, and then addressing not only those problems, but the subsequent offspring issues in the community those original problems create. This is how things change.
Ritchie Torres certainly didn’t have to go into politics. He’s well-educated, smart, personable, he seems to have one of those outgoing personalities that tends to do well in the private sector. He could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars. But he’s running for Congress, at 32 years old. You know what I was doing at 32? Drinking too many martinis and falling asleep in my car.
Ritchie Torres actually has put in the work so that people in the neighborhoods where he grew up don’t have to live in buildings crowded with toxic molds that no one is bothering to address. Replace “toxic mold” in that sentence with “coronavirus” and maybe you’ll see why we need more people like Ritchie Torres in our government right now. What might this country be like today if we had a President Torres governing over us these last six months, instead of what we’ve actually had?
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