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The Anniversary of the Fairmount Fire Highlights the Housing Struggle in Philadelphia

Opinion: Gail Loney

Three hundred and sixty-five days after a fire tore through a row house converted into apartments in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia, and we are no closer to the remedies required to save the twelve lives lost one year ago today. That tragedy highlights the struggle everyone faces to find housing no matter what your condition.

The blood of nine children will likely be missing from the history books that matter. If you want to know something important, accurate and consistent with how and who a city considers expendable, check into the housing conditions and the public schools. The truth is, finding housing in this city is a struggle made worse by a lack of oversight and accountability. When people lose their lives, legislative and regulatory change follows, but then there is still no real follow up.

Whether a mother of three, a disabled vet, or a person on a fixed income, housing is a struggle. But then, we have the audacity to want safe as well as affordable housing according to what our incomes actually are! The rooming house fire in north central in 2018, and the Fairmount fire thereafter, the proposed legislative changes, are to have PHA and landlords hardwire fire alarms and smoke detectors in their properties and give landlords tax credits to do so.

That’s just a band aid on a gaping wound. Where is L&I, Zoning, PHA, and City Council, among so many others who play a role in this conversation. I imagine, making legislative changes to pass the buck as the city prepares for a lawsuit being brought against PHA for the loss of life in the Fairmount Fire.

I guess our politicians, can’t be bothered with implementing the required changes to house our city because it would increase the cost of housing to even more astronomical heights than already exist depending on your situation, which of course passes onto the tenants. The need for affordable housing in Philadelphia is so vast that the resources available to the city government and the housing authority have never been remotely able to meet the need. While debates have raged, the fact is that only a small fraction of those who need help ever get it.

It was recently stated in a WHYY article I read that, It really boils down to a matter of political will and dollars to spend. That is not just for hardwired fire systems. That speaks to housing as a right and having the right to life, liberty, and happiness, which to me interprets, safe, accessible, housing we can afford.

Gail Loney is a member of the Executive Committee of Philly Neighborhood Networks, founder of Stadium Stompers, and a leading housing activist.


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