Today I took a break from packing for our upcoming move, to write my “mold story” for an organization wanting to bring attention to the systemic mold issues in MHPI housing. I’m packing for an upcoming move because for the second time in my husband’s military career, we are living in an MHPI home with mold problems. We were offered a transfer to a different MHPI home, as the housing company says, for “customer service” reasons...but not because there is a problem with our current home, of course.
As I write my “mold story” the emotions are overwhelming. The guilt for putting my children in unsafe homes twice, the fear the home to where we are transferring may be no better, the tightening of my chest every time my daughter says “Mommy, my head hurts,” as I work. The wide range of emotions are relentless, but days like today when I attempt to put our story into words...they’re unbearable-anger, disappointment, sadness, fear, uncertainty, and resentment, to name a few. The aftermath of fighting the first MHPI housing company who placed us in a toxic home is constant; I live in a defensive state when it comes to privatized military housing companies.
Submitting a work order for a leaky faucet leads to almost compulsive cleaning of my, typically already clean, house. Because if my baseboards are dirty, they’ll blame the leaking faucet on me, right? When you’re told mold in your vents is “dirt”, or “you probably opened the door and a leaf blew in," and that “you don’t run the fan in your bathroom long enough," and “your thermostat should be set only 10 degrees cooler than the outside temperature," or my all-time favorite, “it’s scientifically impossible, absent a flooding event for mold in the home to impact your contents..." you start to believe you are the problem. That abusive relationship with the MHPI company begins when you identify a life, safety, or health issue, and changes the way you function in your daily life. Watching your children suffer through allergy testing, respiratory issues, bloody noses, struggling to breathe, in a home you know is not safe while being told nothing is wrong, permanently changes the way you live your daily life. I miss the days I believed my home was the safest place my children could be.
Nobody forced us to live in military housing again. After our first experience with a toxic home, we should have run away and never looked back. But we made what we thought was the best decision as we had to PCS during the beginning of a pandemic, when most of the country was locked down. The more our move date was changed, the more difficult it became to secure a home off base because there was no guarantee as to when we would arrive at my husband’s new assignment. Do I regret our decision to give military housing another chance? Yes. Will we live in military housing again? Not if I can help it. Is any of this my fault?No.
Each time we paid rent, or Basic Allowance for Housing, the expectation was that the housing company would provide us with a safe home. It's a reasonable request, after all. What is unreasonable, however, is the continued disregard for the health and safety of residents by those tasked with managing them and the demand that we live in these homes, keeping our mouths shut. I ask myself every day, how can a company run by human beings with their own families sleep at night asking us to suffer in silence? Where is their humanity?
As the events with the contaminated water in Hawaii unfold and Armed Forces Housing Advocates does our best to support military families suffering in unimaginable ways, the words from the residents over the last two months play in my head on a reel. “They don’t care about us… they don’t care that we are sick… they don’t care that they poisoned my children…I’ll never be able to trust them again." Many of us at AFHA have experienced similar thoughts when living in unsafe MHPI homes. It is why we volunteer so much of our time to support military families, and to advocate for change. It is why we can say “we believe you” and mean it-we have actually been there. And some of us are still there. We believe you. Whether you’re dealing with contaminated water, dealing with mold, lead-based paint, window hazards, or any other life, safety, or health issue, we believe you.
The toll of MHPI substandard living conditions takes on all of us, mentally and physically, is immeasurable. Someday, I have to believe, that all of this will come to light and that the Department of Defense will hold the MHPI companies accountable for their action on a large scale. I don't know if the damage done to my family, to thousands of families, will ever be undone. I am not sure if it is a bell that can be un-rung. What I do know is that readiness starts with a safe home, and I am here with AFHA to make sure that message gets into the heads of anyone that needs to hear it.