Mom of 5 blames mould in London Housing unit for children's breathing problems
City of London, Middlesex-London Health Unit say inspections show mould not a problem
For the last two months, Kayla Fraser Jacobs and her five children have been living in a hotel room while they wait for crews to remediate what Jacobs believes is a persistent mould problem in her London Housing townhouse.
"I was happy because I thought maybe things would get done," said Jacobs, 31, who is a member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation.
About three years ago, Jacobs discovered a water leak had caused significant damage in her basement.
"I call and tell them, 'I think it's all mouldy down here,'" said Jacobs who pays less than $200 a month for the three-bedroom unit. "All they did was come and patch it up with mud."
That was two years ago, but Jacobs still believes there's mould there.
Jacobs's youngest children both have respiratory issues. Nuni, 2, has severe asthma and along with her 10-month-old sister, Sophia, is on daily medication and is being followed closely by respiratory specialists at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).
These girls can't live because they're not breathing properly.- Kayla Fraser Jacobs
"In March, [Sophia] got admitted to the hospital because she couldn't breathe, like, literally you could see her ribcage," said Jacobs. "It was so bad. I was scared."
Jacobs blames the mould.
She managed to get funding for a three-month stay in a hotel room, through Jordan's Principle, a federal government policy that ensures First Nations children have equitable access to housing and social services.
That funding runs out on Sept. 8.
A City of London inspector visited the unit in June, along with a representative with Arnsby Property Management, which maintains the townhouse complex, and though they did find some problems with the unit, mould wasn't one of them.
A staircase handrail, a working bathroom ceiling fan and windows screens were all on the list and have been replaced. A new bathroom floor has not yet been installed.
According to Arnsby property manager Kyndall Fiest, Jacobs's case has now been closed, as the home has been properly remediated.
"I'm tired of the answers that I'm getting," said Jacobs. "I'm tired of my girls being neglected. The doctor says you need to breathe every day in order to live.
"These girls can't live because they're not breathing properly."
A City of London spokesperson said in an email Thursday to CBC that the city isn't in a position to share specifics about the property, but it had received a complaint.
"An officer went to the property and inspected it to the extent that's allowed through the property standards bylaw," the spokesperson said. "Any deficiencies that were noted have now been addressed."
In general, the email added, mould is the responsibility of the property owner, "so this would be an issue between the resident and the property manager." If the resident has any further concerns, they can reach out to public health through the Middlesex-London Health Unit, it said.
'Positive change' in child's health while out of home
In the two months Jacobs's youngest daughter has been out of the house and living in the hotel, caregivers at the Nshwaasnangong Child Care & Family Centre, where Sophia attends, have noticed a difference.
According to early childhood educator Shelley Brine, "Over the last three months, my colleagues and I were quite concerned about Sophia and her respiratory health. Sophia would come to us with a congested chest daily.
"In the past three weeks, I have noticed a positive change in Sophia's health ... she is stronger, breathing more clearly and crawling around with great energy," said Brine in a letter of support for Jacobs.
Earlier this year, Jacobs received another letter of support from Erin Fleischer, the registered nurse in pediatric respirology who is caring for Nuni at Victoria Hospital.
Over the last three months, my colleagues and I were quite concerned about Sophia and her respiratory health.- Shelley Brine, early childhood educator
"Any carpet that is in the home should be removed and replaced with a laminate or hardwood flooring," the letter reads.
"We do have her on controller medications in the hopes that we can minimize the number of exacerbations she has. However, if there are environmental triggers still in her living area, this will continue to create inflammation in the lungs and lead to repeated illness for her," it continues.
Jacobs asked Arnsby Property Management to remove the carpets, but in a letter dated February 2022, was told, "We are sorry to hear that your daughter is having health issues, and we understand that dust and mould can seriously affect the health of a child; therefore, we are happy to approve your request to remove your carpet and install solid surface flooring.
"Due to the financial situation of the property, we are unfortunately not in the position to be able to fund the project," the letter states. The letter also suggested using fans, opening windows and refrain from hanging laundry inside, as a way to prevent mould.
Earlier this spring, Jacobs ripped out her living room carpet on her own, but her staircase and upstairs bedrooms are also carpeted, and Jacobs doesn't think she can remove it all herself.
"In response to the indoor housing-related concerns, a public health inspector from the Middlesex-London Health Unit visited the location and provided recommendations, education, and guidance to the tenant," said health unit spokesperson Morgan Lobzun.