Elderly Residents Want Asbestos-Tainted Belongings Back

The mayor of Houston told residents of a senior housing community, which suffered a fire in November, that he believes they should be able to retrieve their belongings from their damaged apartments as long as they don’t hold the Houston Housing Authority responsible for damages, even though many of the items are covered with thick asbestos dust.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Mayor Bill White told residents of the Bellerive Apartments on Tuesday that City Attorney Arturo Michel would consult with the housing authority’s attorneys to draft a legal waiver that tenants could sign to get their belongings back.

Kim Szeto, a leader of a social service agency working with the Bellerive tenants, said she believes that the dust won’t be a deterrent and that most of them would be willing to sign the waiver just to be able to get their treasured belongings back into their possession. The authority says items in 61 of the project’s 210 apartments are potentially contaminated with asbestos.

Residents say they don’t have the estimated $3,400 it would cost to remove asbestos fibers from clothing and furniture, as the housing authority says is necessary before they can be returned. However, Mayor White urged the housing authority not to destroy tenants’ belongings until the city has time to work with the agency to find a solution. He said it was “pretty intrusive” for a government agency to prevent anyone from recovering personal items from the scene of a fire.

Joe Rafferty, the president and owner of DSM Environmental Services, told the housing authority that he believes only two units need to undergo the expensive cleaning. But the agency disagrees with Rafferty’s assessment, noting that exposure to any level of asbestos is hazardous.

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