Driven from home
Mold and mildew force hundreds of people in Westbury community to leave their apartments
BY ZACHARY R. DOWDY | firstname.lastname@example.org; Staff writer Bill Mahttp://m1.2mdn.net/viewad/817-grey.gif Hundreds of residents of a brand-new luxury complex in Westbury - home to New York Jets players and low-income residents alike - were told last night they have four months to leave the mold- and mildew-plagued buildings, which residents said have sickened them with respiratory ailments.
The sprawling, 21-building Archstone Westbury community on Corporate Drive, a year-old complex once viewed as a promising mixed-income housing experiment, is being cleared of all residents in more than 400 apartments in the wake of reports of what officials called “pervasive water intrusion problems.”
“Archstone must therefore serve formal lease termination notices to all residents, who will be required to relocate by March 31, 2008,” read the company’s news release, a version of which was given to residents by officials who went door to door last night.
“Reconstruction, which will take approximately one year or more to complete, is expected to begin as early as April 2008,” it continued. “Archstone-Smith recently discovered extensive water intrusion, in which water has seeped in through the exterior skin of the property, and conducted an in-depth investigation to assess the extent of the problem.”
Residents of the three-story, brick-faced units in the gated community near The Source mall called the situation outrageous and disgusting and said they’ve endured leaky windows and grotesque mold growing right in their homes.
Katie Coleman, 27, the wife of Jets defensive end Kenyon Coleman, said she and her 2- and 3-year-old children developed nasty coughs soon after she moved into the complex in March, so she got the air in the home tested and complained to management, which she said did not address the problem. But she got a clue that something was really amiss when she saw a massive mold mushrooming on a windowsill in her three-bedroom apartment. She moved out in August.
“I couldn’t clear my throat and my kids had coughs,” she said. “Archstone said there wasn’t anything wrong, but I had water damage in my apartment and my children were sick.”
Archstone officials said they recently realized the problem affected all 20 apartment buildings, where regular rents are $2,400 for a one-bedroom apartment to $3,400 for a three-bedroom apartment, and the clubhouse. The affordable housing units, assigned through a lottery, make up about 20 percent of the complex rent for about a third of the market value.
David Pendery, a spokesman for the Englewood, Colo.-based company, said residents would be given “relocation assistance packages” amounting to a month’s rent and another sum of between $1,300 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,900 for a three-bedroom apartment.
He also said that the renovations would take about a year and that the company could not guarantee that each tenant would be able to move back into their units.
In 2003, Archstone-Smith agreed to pay $25 million in damages to 800 tenants of a high-rise complex in Bal Harbour, Fla., for mold problems. The settlement was earmarked to pay for property damage and health-related issues stemming from a mold outbreak.
Town of Hempstead officials said they had high hopes for the complex, which was among the county’s first mixed-income housing programs.
“We think this is a serious concern, and we hope that Archstone will take every step to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their tenants at the Westbury location,” said Mike Deery, a town spokesman. “Certainly, the town was optimistic and certainly hopeful when it announced that Nassau County’s first mixed-income rental housing development was to be built in the Town of Hempstead.”
Pendery said Archstone-Smith owns or is an owner in 350 properties across the country, an empire comprising 89,000 units.
Staff writer Bill Mason contributed to this story