There are two monsters living under Nicole Bowser’s Gravenhurst home.
Since moving into a trailer at the Big Pine Acres mobile home park this past July, a growing mould colony and rot to support beams are threatening the future of its structural integrity.
“It appears to cover the floor of my bedroom, so we’re probably talking about 100 to 150 square feet,” the asthmatic single mother of three said of the growing white mould.
She said that problem was significant enough to have nearly hospitalized her. “I was almost told that I was going on short-term disability because I was so sick I couldn’t function at my job,” she said.
As the household’s only breadwinner, Bowser juggles two jobs as a personal support worker and as a vocational support worker.
Coupled with her 50-hour work week is the need to ferry her two nine-year-olds and a 12-year-old to cub meetings, skating and badminton practices.
She’s barely scratched the surface of the $50,000 mortgage she has on the trailer, and can’t afford much time off from work to recover.
To alleviate the cost of fixing her home, Bowser applied for a renovation grant through the Ontario Renovates program, a recently introduced provincial fund.
Offered through the District of Muskoka, the Ontario Renovates program offers low-income households up to $10,000 for home repairs and up to $25,000 for the creation of self-contained secondary suites. However, a small technicality left the money just out of Bowser’s reach. “Because I live in a mobile home that is on leased land, I categorically do not qualify, because I do not own the land that my home is on,” she said. “There are many applications, I understand that. It’s on a first-come, first-served basis, I understand that. What I don’t understand is why I am being categorically denied and disallowed because I own a mobile home.”
When Bowser bought the trailer, a home inspection by an Orillia contractor did identify a small amount of mould, but she was told that it would not be a huge problem as long as the affected areas are regularly vented.
A recent flood in the bathroom has since exacerbated the mould problem, and she fears she will lose her home insurance coverage in the near future.
The home inspection did not identify the problem of rotting wood support beams, however. A cub leader, Bowser put herself through college to retrain for her present career after being laid off from her previous job, where she worked with troubled youth.
She said she hasn’t had much time in her busy schedule to personally evaluate the full extent of her home’s problems until recently. “We found the rot this past weekend when we opened up the skirting to see what we needed for venting, and that’s when we found the rotten wood,” she said in an interview with this newspaper last week. “By October, I had to gut the bathroom because it was full of mould and I was sick.” Although mould has also had health effects on her children, the family budget only allows for patchwork repairs at the moment.
“They’re sneezing a lot and complaining of itchy throats,” she said of her children. “I’ve ripped out all the carpets in my home already, I’ve gutted the bathroom, I’ve spent $600 on a UV HEPA air filter to try to improve the air quality of my home because I didn’t know where the mould was. I didn’t know why we were still getting sick.”
So far, she said she’s still awaiting a quote from a company that has looked into the total cost of repairs, but anticipates that she won’t have the money to pay certified professionals for mould removal and repairs.
She has turned to some friends and family who have offered to roll up their sleeves and help her with do-it-yourself repairs.
Bowser has little formal experience or training in home renovations.
“I took shop in high school,” she said. Under District of Muskoka policies for the Ontario Renovates program, applications for mobile home owners are considered on a case-by-case basis, but mobile home residents are not explicitly excluded. In a July report, programs director Heather Moore said trailer repairs can represent a “disproportionally large percentage of the overall value of the home.” Even in a good state of repair, her report says trailer homes are only expected to last only about 60 years.
“Investment through this program may therefore not always be prudent,” Moore said in her report.
But in an interview with this newspaper, she said another mobile home resident has been conditionally approved by the program because that home sits on land owned by the applicant.
The problem in Bowser’s case, Moore said, is the uncertainty of whether her home will still be sitting where it is in a decade’s time.
“Someone who leases land on a month-by-month basis, we have no way of guaranteeing that will be a viable property in 10 years, because the owner of the property at any point can decide to end that,” she said. “Because leased land is something that is out of anybody’s control, we aren’t covering that.”
She said the number of applicants who have applied to the program is already greater than the amount of money available.
Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller said to his understanding mould is covered by the Ontario Renovates program, but reiterated the fact that mobile homes are examined on a case-by-case basis. “Mould is something that’s covered, and if they have reasonably long tenure, then it’s something that should be considered,” he said. “I think the whole idea of the program is to make people’s homes better and safer, and make them essentially able to stay in their homes instead of not having a home.” Miller said his office has received a handful of inquiries about the Ontario Renovates program, but that only one was about how the program applies to mobile homes.
He said low-income residents in the region have been hurt by provincial cuts to traditional affordable housing funds like the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit and the Home Repair Benefit from Ontario Works.
New programs like Ontario Renovates that were introduced in their place, Miller said, don’t match the previous levels of funding that have been slashed. “We’re talking about one individual case, but I’m afraid there’s going to be many more,” he said. “The McGuinty government seems to have their priorities wrong, in that they’re reducing support for the most vulnerable at the same time they’re blowing $650 million to save some political seats and move a couple of gas plants out of Oakville and Mississauga.”
Though she’s not anticipating help will come to alleviate her situation anytime soon, Bowser says she’s simply hoping to draw light to the bureaucratic purgatory that the mobile home owners must face if they aren’t landowners.
“I just want to be given the same opportunities as anyone else, I don’t expect any special treatment,” she said.