21 Aug 2015

'Mould is killing my children'

1:52 pm on 21 August 2015

An Auckland mother says the mould in her state house is killing her children, one of whom now has holes in his lungs, and has suffered strokes.

Te Ao Marama Wensor's son Iriah, in hospital.

Te Ao Marama Wensor's son Iriah, in hospital. Photo: RNZ/Lauren Baker

Walking round her Housing New Zealand home in Glen Innes, Te Ao Marama Wensor points out the holes in a wall of the bedroom that her sons, aged seven and nine, should be sharing.

"All the mould from the bathroom is just coming through to the walls.

"'Cause the water's coming straight down from the inside of the wall, coming down to the bottom, and it's just rotted all the wood on the side of it"

A power point dangles to the side of one of the holes.

Ms Wensor said they only realised that the mould, of both the black and pink varieties, was so bad, when last year, her son fell against the wall, and straight through it because it was so soft.

It was two years ago when the same son was rushed to hospital after fainting and having a seizure.

Initially diagnosed with the flu, it later turned out the child has two holes in each lung, and an enlarged heart valve which pumps too much blood to his brain, causing clots.

He has had at least three strokes and is not allowed to run in case the valve ruptures, and he has a heart attack.

Mould

Photo: RNZ/Lauren Baker

Ms Wensor said specialists have since told her that toxic bacteria from mould in their house was what had caused his lung problems, and contributes to the size of the heart valve.

She remains composed throughout the interview, but her voice wobbles as she says she worries she will wake up one morning, to find that her son has died in the night.

'The worst case she has ever seen'

Next on the house tour is the bathroom.

It gleams white because of the plastic boarding contractors have attached to the walls, but there are holes in the sealing around the taps.

Ms Wensor showed me the pictures she took of the wall behind it when the plastic was put up.

The walls are grey to waist height.

As an aside, she said the house was sinking, and had come away from the front deck in the past.

She said contractors had come round twice to fix the deck.

In the sitting room, which now doubles at the boys' bedroom at night, Ms Wensor said her older son had also been ill.

"The health nurse from the kids' school rang and said, 'your oldest son has strep-throat.' He's had that so many times. The health nurse came and checked the house and said it's because of the mould that's causing the strep-throat.

The bathroom wall before contractors put up the white plastic sheet.

The bathroom wall before contractors put up a white plastic sheet. Photo: RNZ/Lauren Baker

"So we got him checked out. He's had his antibiotics but then keeps getting it every time, so the nurse suggested to move them out of that room - to shut it down, and then move them into an area that has no mould."

The family's nurse is just one health professional who has penned her recommendation to move in a letter to Housing New Zealand.

But housing advocate Danielle Bergin, who manages the Island Child Charitable Trust, said many more had been written.

"It should only take one of those highly experienced advocates to be listened to.

"We've now got a case of at least seven or eight highly experienced advocates who've put their names to paper and submitted letters of support saying this family needs help and it needs help now."

She said it was the worse case she's ever seen.

"In over 10 years of housing support, I've not come across a family with such serious house and health concerns, especially for the children.

Te Ao Marama Wensor

Te Ao Marama Wensor Photo: RNZ/Lauren Baker

"I would expect that several years ago this family could have been transferred within three or four days. I've been working with the family here for four months and we've been campaigning hard within that time."

Ms Bergin said no politician would allow their child to sleep in this house, so why should this family have to?

Housing New Zealand responds

In a statement to Radio New Zealand, Housing New Zealand regional manager, Denise Fink, said they did not believe tenants should have to live in any environment that may jeopardise their health.

She said they heard in June from a community organisation about the family's concerns, and went round the next day to assess the house.

Ms Fink said some repairs had been made, while others were booked in for fixing, but they had not yet been able to find a suitable house for the Wensor family in the specified areas.

Housing New Zealand said the family had been offered the chance to stay in a motel until a new house is found, and that it would cover those costs.

But the family has rejected Housing New Zealand's offer, calling it a nice gesture but unsuitable.

Ms Bergin said the family will stay with their aunty in her little unit nearby for now, even though it will be overcrowded.

She said the family wants to stay in the area rather than be socially isolated in a motel in another suburb.

Mould

Photo: RNZ/Lauren Baker

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