Fire Horror Shows ‘Life and Death’ Needs in Philadelphia Public Housing – NBC10 Philadelphia
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Although 26 people resided there, a three-story townhouse in Philadelphia that caught fire in a fatal fire that killed 12 people had no fire escape. It wasn’t necessary, according to the city’s fire prevention code.
Philadelphia does not require fire escapes in the city’s one- or two-family townhouses, Licensing and Inspections spokeswoman Karen Guss said. Also, while newer buildings require sprinkler systems, the house that caught fire – which is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority – was exempt because it was an older construction, Guss said.
The property, divided into two separate apartments, caught fire on Wednesday morning, killing eight children and four adults. Two others, a child and an adult, were left in critical condition.
“They would be alive today if they had sprinklers in this building,” said Glenn Corbett, a fire expert. He was the chairman of a panel of experts that suggested dozens of reforms – including safety and fire prevention measures – following the 2013 Salvation Army building collapse of Philadelphia which left six dead and 13 others injured.
There were six battery-powered smoke detectors installed in the house that caught fire on Wednesday, but none were operational at the time of the blaze, firefighters said. Kelvin Jeremiah, president and CEO of PHA, said in a written statement Wednesday that all smoke detectors were functioning properly when the property was last inspected in May of last year.
The family moved in in 2011 and were moved there because their old home was too small, Jeremiah said. Over time, three daughters had their own children and the family grew, with three generations living under one roof.
The rental agreement was for 20 people in both units. One of the units was supposed to house 14 people, while the second was supposed to house six, Jeremiah said.
But while some wondered why there were so many people in a house, Jeremiah noted the urgent need for affordable housing in the country’s poorest big city.
âIt was actually an intact family that chose to live together. This is what we do. We are not chasing our family members, our loved ones who may not have other suitable housing options, âJeremiah said.
He called the idea of ââdeporting people because their families have grown “nonsense.”
The house that burned down was one of some 4,000 properties in PHA’s âscattered sitesâ portfolio, Jeremiah said. These houses offer low-income families the opportunity to live in “neighborhoods undergoing gentrification that are rapidly losing their affordability,” he noted.
The house is in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia, close to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Ben Franklin Parkway, and has been bourgeois for decades.
Building new public housing or repairing what PHA already owns is a huge task, but one that is a vital need for residents, Jeremiah said.
His agency currently has around $ 1.5 billion in capital and deferred maintenance needs, Jeremiah said, adding that public housing infrastructure across the country continues to deteriorate due to a lack of funding.
âSo, as conditions deteriorate nationwide, our families wait and wait and wait. They can’t wait any longer. It has become a matter of life and death for too many families, and this unfortunate and unimaginable tragedy highlights it in some way, âJeremiah said.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing such as housing in which the occupant does not spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs, including utilities. In 2019, more than 37 million tenants and owners spent more than 30% of their income on housing, according to HUD.
Jeremiah called on lawmakers to pass President Joe Biden’s $ 2 trillion Build Back Better Act, which allocates $ 170 billion for affordable housing. The bill passed by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, but stagnated in the Senate, where all Republicans and two conservative Democrats – Joe Manchin of Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – oppose it.
Meanwhile, local and federal investigators continue to investigate what started the fire.
Investigative sources told NBC10 that a child was playing with a lighter near a Christmas tree before the fire. The child escaped by running out of the house and told investigators the tree caught fire, the sources said.
Officials on Thursday declined to comment on the details of the investigation, although they hinted at a large-scale investigation.
âWhat I can tell you is that this is a resource intensive investigation. This is an exceptional time – people, equipment, commitment – to discover the origin and cause of this tragedy, âsaid Philadelphia Deputy Fire Chief Dennis Merrigan.