More Than 1,000 Greensboro Residents Visited Hospital As A Result Of Substandard Housing

8:42 PM, Mar 6, 2013   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- More than a 1,000 residents in Greensboro went to the hospital for asthma symptoms in 2011.

That is according to the Guilford County Department of Public Health which compiled the data from Cone Hospital.

The Department explains that there's a high association between the patients and people who live in substandard housing within the city.

For tenant advocates, even though that's unsettling, the real problem is that the City of Greensboro never held the landlords accountable.

City leaders admit that for a decade now Greensboro has not fully enforced its own ordinance which could have fined or sent some of the landlords to jail.

"I feel like we're just putting a whole lot of things on the books [but] for what, if we're not going to enforce the ones we have?" Marty Robinson, a tenant in Greensboro said in frustration.

While Marty Robinson's landlord isn't implicated in any wrongdoing by the city, the tenant says moving into his rental home has caused his family some health problems.

In the last two years, Robinson says he and each of his four children along with his wife have had to go to the hospital for nagging breathing problems which involved coughing.

"We thought it was everything from whooping cough, to asthma related allergies," Robinson said about the months doctors spent trying to figure out the problem.

The father of four says inspectors went to his son's school, but found nothing. They finally discovered the problem was their home. 

Robinson says they told him the home has a ventilation problem, no vapor barriers, and a leaking furnace - all of which he says his landlord is working to fix since learning about the issue.

The latest data from the health department also shows most of the asthma related hospital trips by Greensboro residents were from the southeastern part of Greensboro.

The Greensboro Housing Coalition adds that the problem is prevalent in low income, African-American households where tenants either don't know their rights or landlords are simply ignoring health hazards like mold.

"It's a big deal. Certainly folks in Greensboro deserve safe housing," Mayor Robbie Perkins said.

However, even as rental property violations continued to pile up in the city's code violation office, it's been at least 10 years since the city has fined or jailed any landlords under its own ordinance.

Mayor Perkins says he has no explanation for the lag in code enforcement other than the city not being aggressive enough in the past.

Sue Schwartz, director of Planning and Community Development also explains that an old state law governing rental property inspections took precedent and fines were hard to collect.

"It's just flat out unacceptable," Michelle Kennedy with the Greensboro Housing Coalition shot back.

"We can't continue to give landlords who don't want to take care of their rental properties a pass on the backs of those most vulnerable in Greensboro."

Kennedy believes better enforcement would protect renters and be a good revenue stream for the city as well.

The mayor says he's working with other city leaders to correct the problem and increase enforcement.

There's also a committee working to strengthen laws that protect renters. The group has four meetings scheduled in March and April and could have recommendations for the city by May, according to Perkins.

In the meantime, city code enforcement agents can only investigate housing violations after complaints.

If you have a current housing issue with your landlord, call the city and report the problem: 336-373-2111.

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