Housing conditions place the health of some DC children in jeopardy

Image 1 of 2

A D.C. mother is desperate for help - she says her 10-year-old's life is in jeopardy, and it's shining a spotlight on a big problem in the District when it comes to affordable housing.

A look inside Felicia Ross's home on Affordable Housing Row home along 3rd Street Southwest shows water damage - and the mold that puts her child at risk.

Doctors say the mold and mildew are contributing to her daughter's severe asthma and respiratory failure.

Felicia Ross has been asking the D.C. Housing Authority to move them to a new home for months.

"I've given them handwritten letters from even her primary health care letting them know what she has can kill her, and we're still here. They know about it. I've sent them pictures. I've sent them emails," Ross said.

While FOX 5 was in the home, the 10-year-old child became overwhelmed - she was literally terrified for her own life.

The girl - Amira - was just released from her latest emergency visit to Children's National Medical Center.

Amira's living environment puts her at risk for repeat hospital admissions - and possible death.

The doctors are asking that she be moved into an environment free of moisture, mold, and rodents, whose droppings can trigger asthma.

They also want her to be in a smoke-free building.

"They have seen two cases in the last year of children dying from the same conditions Amira has due, in part, to their housing conditions," said attorney Stacy Ruegilin of Shearman & Sterling LLP.

Ruegilin is helping the family pro-bono. They haven't filed a lawsuit - she's just trying to help fasttrack their case with the D.C. housing authority.

She says the city has repeatedly offered units with conditions as bad or worse than what they are in now.

"At least two of them have been identified by the housing authority to the Department of Housing and Urban Development as candidates for demolition because they are no longer habitable. It's not just this family, it's systemic throughout D.C.," Ruegilin said.

"I'm not trying to bury my child. I'm just...we're still here, waiting," Ross said.

The head of the D.C. Housing Authority sent FOX 5 a statement.

"When your child's health is in the balance, nothing else matters…the health and safety of the residents is DCHA's top priority," said Tyrone Garrett, Executive Director of the DC Housing Authority.

The statement continues:

So long as it's feasible DCHA will continue to work with the family to help them find a different home where they feel more at ease.

All environmental issues in the existing apartment have been addressed. The apartment has been tested and the environmental issues have been addressed.

The physical conditions of our properties mean the options for transfers are severely limited. More than 2,600 housing units are classified as 'extremely urgent' condition and need major repairs. Since late 2018, Director Garrett has been working with the agency's board of commissioners, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the District government to address the enormous capital needs of the agency.

Approximately 40,000 people are on DCHA's general waitlist. The majority of DCHA's properties are more than 50 years old and the federal funding for capital maintenance and improvements has been on a steady decline for the last several years.

The Housing Authority says it needs more than $2 billion to fix the problems over the next 20 years.

A lawyer who spoke with FOX 5 says the entire program must be revamped.