Updates: Houses will have radon tests; Social Security check arrives

In wake of column, Habitat for Humanity's Chicago South Suburbs chapter says it will inspect for gas before offering homes for sale

The executive director of Habitat for Humanity's Chicago South Suburbs chapter said his organization will begin testing houses for radon before offering them to qualified participants.

Although such testing is not required by state law, the nonprofit decided to make the change after Sunday's What's Your Problem? column about Tonja Davis, who bought a refurbished home from Habitat for Humanity, only to find that it contained elevated levels of the cancer-causing gas.

In an email, David Tracy said he also hopes Davis' story will generate public support so his chapter can develop a fund for low-income participants who need help maintaining their homes.

"Our goal is to create a stream of funding which would enable Habitat to help some of these individuals," Tracy said.

When Davis bought her Lansing home from Habitat in 2012, the house had not been tested for radon. After experiencing breathing problems, Davis paid for a radon test, which found potentially unhealthy levels of the gas.

Davis, a cancer survivor, asked Habitat to mitigate the radon exposure, a process that would cost about $1,000. Tracy told Davis, and later the Problem Solver, that because she had signed a document at closing titled "Disclosure of Information on Radon Hazards," Habitat was not legally responsible for mitigating the radon.

"We would never knowingly sell a home that had high levels of radon," Tracy said Sunday. In Davis' case, Habitat for Humanity paid for an independent test that confirmed that her home has elevated levels of radon.

"We support her desire to mitigate but are not financially capable of paying for the service," Tracy said. "Based on this incident we have added radon testing and air quality testing to our process which has always included testing for lead and asbestos and mitigation of mold when present."

Davis was happy to hear Habitat for Humanity's Chicago South Suburbs chapter is changing its radon policy.

"Progress is wonderful," she said. "If you're an organization that's helping people, you have to make sure you're putting them in homes that are safe."

Davis said she spent time during the weekend looking for a radon mitigation system on eBay but found none that she could afford.

One reader contacted the Problem Solver offering to pay $300 of Davis' cost. Another offered $100. Davis was floored.

"That's lovely," she said. "That's good news."

Check arrives

It took several months longer than they had hoped, but Judy Weingartner and her brothers received their late mother's final Social Security check.

Weingartner, featured in the Feb. 2 column, asked the Problem Solver for help after her mother, Jean Kozak, passed away Oct. 3.

On the morning Kozak died, the Social Security Administration deposited her September benefit payment of $1,534 into her bank account. When the federal agency learned that Kozak had died, it took the money back from Kozak's bank account.

Social Security agreed that Kozak and her family were owed the money. But getting the government to return it proved difficult.

Weingartner spent several months in discussions with Social Security but was unable to make any headway.

After the Problem Solver inquired about Weingartner's case, Social Security worked with her to ensure that she filled out the proper paperwork. The money was divided into thirds, with equal checks sent to Weingartner and her two brothers.

Her check arrived Feb. 5, three days after the column ran.

"We got it all," Weingartner said. "It's great."

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