Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Got No Power

I was reading this article this morning. It's about a couple (as in two) of apartment fires this summer (one ending very tragically) that were caused by candles used in apartments when the tenants' power was cut due to non-payment of the electric bill.

The authority figures (the city government and the landlords) featured in the article are all adamant about how dangerous it is to live in an apartment without electricity ...

... because of the risk of fire ...

... because electricity has never been implicated in an apartment fire.

And it makes me bristle ... just a little.

The discussion centers on safety, and the way the city of Lewiston combats it is to condemn the individual apartment until the situation is rectified. So, these people, who can't afford to pay the electric bill, are now out on the streets, because their apartment has been condemned, and they can't move back into the apartment until their electric bill is paid.

Maine law prohibits Central Maine Power (CMP) from cutting power during the winter, because of the heat issue. Which means that during the winter, CMP customers could just not pay the bill, racking up hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars. When the weather warms enough to not be dangerous, their power is cut, their apartment is condemned, and they're on the streets.

I just don't see that as an answer.

People really only need *in order* shelter, fire, water, and food (we'll assume that we all have air) to survive. I don't see electricity on the list, and when I hear stories like this, I'm always left wondering, what did people do before there was electricity?

But we do need shelter, and it seems to me that condemning the apartment and kicking the tenants out until they pay the electric bill is compounding the problem. Maybe, instead of kicking them out of the apartment, the city (or the landlord) could provide "emergency lighting" so that they don't use candles. Or all of the lighting in the building could be wired into one breaker with the bill paid as part of the rent, and the outlets could all be wired to individual apartments and paid for by the tenants. That way, individual apartments would always have light, which would eliminate the risk of fire due to using candles.

Maybe the city government and landlords in the Lewiston area could talk with Colin and Michele Beaven about how they survived in a New York City apartment sans electricity, and then there could be a back to basics movement that teaches some off-the-grid living-in-the-city survival skills. So, when tenants have been identified as being without electricity, instead of condemning the apartment and kicking them out, the city could give them some tips on ways to keep themselves and their neighbors safe.

I don't know what the answer is, but kicking people out on the streets and exposing them to the elements, when they've paid the rent, but didn't have enough left for the electric bill, isn't it.

And there is likely to be a lot more of this sort of thing in the near future.

The question is, will *we*, as a society, start moving toward finding ways to make our lives comfortable without all of the luxuries we take for granted, or will we jealously hold onto what we have and hope that things get back to normal?

In Lewiston, the city and the landlords are doing the latter.

I don't know what the tenants are doing.

1 comment:

  1. I'm mixed. I had a good friend that--holy cow--Sunday would be 8 years since she lost her apartment to an electrical fire (it was the day of my Chunky baby shower). Lightning hit her building, caused a power surge and the electrical wiring in her wall smoldered and finally caught fire hours later. Two years later she was in ANOTHER apartment fire caused by a kid playing with matches.

    On the other hand, a good family friend used to teach in the Bush in AK and she refused to let her kids have birthday candles on their cakes because too many people lost their homes to fire due to candles b/c electricity was slow coming to the Bush. BUT that I believe was more because in the Bush, you don't really have fire departments like we have them here. Actually now that I think about it, I wonder if they have them at all??