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The Miami Herald
December 18, 2005, Sunday

Owners tied to moldy condos: Almost two months after Hurricane Wilma ravaged Broward County's housing stock, pockets of condo residents are still living in leaky, moldy apartments

BYLINE: By Natalie P. Mcneal

Plastic sheets resembling Saran Wrap line the ceiling of Gertrude Kinsman's Sunrise Lakes condominium, covering the patches that fell in during the rainstorms after Hurricane Wilma. Buckets sit on the floor of the guest bedroom to catch the water that comes in when it rains.

Hurricane Wilma spared Kinsman, 90, the worst of its wrath, allowing her to still live in her condo after many of her neighbor's units were condemned.

The condo association has a contractor scrambling to make roof repairs on 48 buildings in Sunrise Lakes, and Kinsman has had to call him four times to find the leak in the roof. It's still a mystery. But Kinsman says she's not complaining -- and she's not moving.

"There are [many] buildings here," Kinsman said. "You've got to take care of the worst first."

Kinsman is like many other seniors living in condo communities in Broward County impacted by the storm. The condos, built to old and relatively weak building standards, are crumbling. Aging roofs leak, admitting water deeper into the buildings after each new rain.

When Hurricane Wilma first hit on Oct. 24, scores of people evacuated from crumbling ceilings and water-logged living rooms. Now others who were fortunate to not have a totaled building, are waiting for repairs from over-booked contractors.

Sunrise Lakes and several communities in Lauderdale Lakes and Lauderhill were among the hardest hit.

Gary Rogers, redevelopment director for the city of Lauderdale Lakes said he is concerned about residents staying in less-than-ideal conditions.

"It's a rolling problem," Rogers said. "All the insidious leaks people think are OK now will create even more problems. And with the water hidden in the buildings, it's generating mold and mildew."

In Lauderdale Lakes' Hawaiian Gardens, the city declared 12 of the complex's 44 building unsafe, meaning the city urges residents to leave.

But the city hasn't forced them to do so.

UNSAFE STRUCTURE
Utiva Simmons, 61, and her husband Love, 75, live in a Hawaiian Gardens building that has been declared unsafe by the city.

When the storm hit, Simmons and her husband evacuated from the second floor condo, living in an American Red Cross shelter and then with her daughter before returning to her building.

Her daughter didn't have any electricity. At the shelter, it was hard to put in her husband's feeding tube.

The Simmonses think it's better to live in the building even though most of their neighbors have fled.

"I hope we're okay here," said Utiva Simmons, who doesn't have insurance and is waiting for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance. "I don't have anywhere else to go."

Dan Paz, 71, lives in the same building as the Simmonses, and refuses to leave his condo, despite the mold that is growing in every room.

Even Paz's wife left him to go live with her brother in Sunrise. The mold aggravated her asthma. The mold is so bad in the master bathroom that Paz keeps the door closed for fear that the mold spores will spread.

"I want to stay here as long as I can," said Paz. "I want to watch over everything until they start working on my apartment."

'NO JURISDICTION'
Meanwhile, the condo association president wishes the city would kick people out for health reasons.

"They say there is no jurisdiction to kick people out," said David Barclay, 46, who is living in a friend's home. "But there are some people living here who shouldn't be. But they say they don't want to leave."
Lauderdale Lakes say that there isn't much they can do.

"We've given warning to people that they should leave," Rogers said. "We are trying to be sensitive to the fact that some people can't and won't leave."

Joe Cosi, who oversees housing for Broward County, says that contractors are overwhelmed with new clients and there is a shortage of building materials.

FEMA aid is available, as is assistance through the county.

Meanwhile, back at Sunrise Lakes, Sylvia Benjamin, 93, must live in the front room of her two-bedroom condo. Her bedroom is waterlogged. Like her neighbor Kinsman, every time it rains, she gets worried.

Benjamin's concerns are not so much with money -- she has insurance -- but to ensure her condo is fixed.

Much of the ceiling in her apartment is plastic. Every time it rains, water seeps into her condo.

She spends a lot of time mopping up the water that doesn't make it to the buckets.

Benjamin and her neighbors are sharing a wet vac to salvage their carpets.

"I'm exhausted from all this mopping," said Benjamin, who uses a walker. "Where is the help?"

 

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