Dateline   |  January 06, 2014

'Breathless' part 3

Rossana goes public in her fight against the NYCHA. And as the agency responds to her emergency repair requests, Dateline goes undercover to record the visits of various NYCHA repair crews to Rossana's apartment on hidden camera.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> roseanna was afraid the mold in her bathroom was triggering her daughter's asthma, but she was captive to a repair hotline that made appointments not weeks away but months, even years.

>> at one point i was, like, oh, maybe because i live in the projects. no one pays attention to these things. if i was living probably on park avenue , that wouldn't be happening.

>> reporter: it wasn't something i expected, that the story of asthma would be yet another tale of the halves and the have-nots. as i visited apartment after apartment, that was exactly the narrative i saw evolving.

>> how's he doing?

>> reporter: the difference between rich and poor is especially pronounced in the city's emergency rooms like here at new york presbyterian morgan stanley children's hospital where rows of kids on nebulizers are an everyday sight. the statistic is stunning. poor children are up to 15 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than their wealthier counterparts. that's also the case in inner city philadelphia, washington, d.c., los angeles , and detroit.

>> take a big breathe.

>> reporter: and after she had another asthma attack in december 2012 , amanda ended up in the hospital, too. i'm guessing you're in between fear, grief and just downright anger.

>> yes. that's when i said i need to go out there. i wasn't doing it for me. at this point i felt that i had to do it for amanda .

>> you see how it's misting? right through there, there's water leaking in the morning.

>> reporter: roseanna contacted a community organizer from metro iaf, a collective of grass-roots groups that was threatening to sue nycha based on the americans with disabilities act .

>> amanda is considered disabled. so what we're asking for is for her to be accommodated in an apartment where there's no mold, where there's no moisture. you know, a place where she can be safe.

>> you're right because you're saying your child is sick because of her condition.

>> good morning, everyone.

>> good morning.

>> my name is roseanna .

>> reporter: ten months after amanda 's diagnosis, roseanna made the first public appearance of her life.

>> you know, our house should be the safest place for me and my family, not only for me, but for everyone that lives in housing.

>> how can i help you today?

>> i'm calling to follow up on a ticket for the mold to be removed from my apartment.

>> reporter: the next day when roseanna called nycha , they suddenly told her they would come to fix her bathroom in a mere five days.

>> i'm surprised. maybe they heard the news. you know, or word got to them that we are out there, you know, speaking up.

>> reporter: is that all it took? we decided to find out for ourselves by placing a pair of hidden cameras inside roseanna 's apartment. one was inside this purse hanging on a doorknob providing a really good view for what was happening inside the bathroom while everybody was inside. another gave us a bit of a wider view, concealed at the end of the hall right there. it was december 24th , 2012 . christmas eve . and any hope roseanna might have had for the perfect christmas present evaporated the minute she saw the nycha team.

>> you know what? you need to pray to somebody.

>> reporter: it was an inspection team coming not to do repairs, only to confirm that she had mold.

>> the mildew, i'm going to just take a shot. you've got to take showers, right? real hot showers?

>> normal.

>> so if you're takin' real hot showers and can you feel condensation which is like the steam creates some type of water on the ceiling, that's when you create this problem.

>> one of the workers told me that it was my fault because i was taking hot showers. i was, like, really? so what am i supposed to do? take cold showers ?

>> reporter: how did you bite your tongue ?

>> i don't -- i don't even know sometimes.

>> reporter: everybody's got a breaking point.

>> yes. and sometimes i kind of feel bad because, like, i would take it out on my poor husband. which it wasn't his fault. instead of taking it out on nycha .

>> reporter: by the end of the inspection visit, the nycha worker who had blamed roseanna for the mold seemed to have changed his mind. if she wanted the work to get done, he advised, roseanna might want to sue his employer, the new york city housing authority .

>> my daughter.

>> if she got sick, you --

>> she got asthma.

>> so then you might wanna get some type of documentation.

>> i got all the documentation.

>> you know, you know, things that can make your story trong stronger, your case stronger, because this situation shouldn't be like this.

>> you would think the housing authority would feel it is their obligation to move heaven and earth to protect the health of families, particularly of children, but that's not what happens.

>> reporter: bill de blasio is new york 's new mayor. but when we interviewed him last year, he was still the city's public advocate . part of his job, to expose new york 's most egregious private housing violators. if i looked at your worst landlords list, where would the new york city housing authority fall?

>> if we treated the housing authority the same way we do private landlorded, they'd be our number one worst landlord by far.

>> reporter: maa "dateline" analysis of a 2011 u.s. census bureau report found that public housing apartments had almost four times as many roach infestations and three times as many leaks as private rental apartments. and de blasio discovered that by the end of 2012 , nycha had a backlog of more than 18,000 outstanding repairs directly connected to these asthma triggers.

>> this is the fifth time that someone comes in and they look at it. they say how disgusting and how nasty the bathroom is. and nobody's doing nothing about it. you know what he tells me? that he understands. that he understands. they understand, and they know what i'm going through and how frustrating it is. they would do something about it. but all i get is, "i understand."

>> reporter: nycha was about to send another crew to roseanna 's home. hard to believe that they would make an already bad situation even worse . coming up