New York City’s Many Fire Trap Apartments

The cold fact is New York City is failing to protect its citizens.  A recent fire ended in tragedy and has helped expose some of the nastier habits of city inspectors.  While the practice of illegal conversions is getting some play in the press, another deadly hazard is not: The combination of gas stoves and insufficient heat.  My first apartment in NYC had almost no heat in the winter.  Exploring on HPD’s site allowed me to see violations and complaints for the past few years.  Every winter – heating issues.  The situation played out the same each time:

  1.  I’d call the city
  2. The city would call the super
  3. The super would pump up the heat
  4. The city would send an inspector
  5. The inspector would find nothing wrong

The first time the inspector came by, the super hadn’t reacted fast enough, and we both confirmed a violation.  Additionally, the inspector informed me the wall by the door to the apartment had been illegally setup, and was a fire hazard.  Subsequent calls to the city revealed no violation had been recorded, and each subsequent visit by an inspector went through the above steps.  Eventually I broke my lease and moved out.  However some of the older residents did not have that luxury – and remain.

I spoke to one such resident – who had been in the apartment for over 20 years (and hence was paying an extremely low rent).  She mentioned the heat issue had been going on every single winter she had spent at the property.  She compensated by turning on her oven and opening the door.  In addition to creating a Carbon Monoxide hazard, a gas oven is an especially problematic source of heat for an apartment.  My former neighbor was convinced the New York Housing Department was corrupt.

As far as I know, the apartment still has heating issues.  Visits to HPD’s site to check up on the property now return NO violations or complaints for the past few years – which I know to be false having provided a few of those complaints myself.  Whether this is the result of corruption, malfeasance, or incompetence the end result is same: New Yorkers needlessly suffering and needlessly at risk.


Actually Bryan Fischer Has a Point

I’m an unabashed liberal, and stand firmly for the separation of Church and State.  The rest of Bryan Fischer’s worldview is morally repugnant in its blatant support of theocracy.  That being said, Karoli and John Amato of Crooks and Liars are wrong, and Bryan Fischer is correct, in this particular argument.  They are discussing the case of a Mr Cranick, who refused to pay the Fire Department until his house was literally on fire, at which point the Fire Department refused his last minute offers to settle the bill and let the house burn down.  He writes:

What angry folks fail to realize is that if Mr. Cranick had been able to get away with this – if he’d been able to wait til his house started to burn, then offer $75 and immediately get help – it wouldn’t be long before everybody else stopped paying. Why bother if you can wait until the emergency hits? If you pay when you don’t need to, that just makes you a sap. Pretty soon nobody would have fire protection at all since the city can’t afford to fight fires at $75 a pop. The city would have to withdraw its offer to the county, and everybody, especially responsible folk, would be less safe.

(Essentially what Mr. Cranick wants is “guaranteed issue” for fire protection. This is the same thing that is going to destroy the health care industry, as it is already starting to do under RomneyCare in Massachusetts. If you can wait til you get sick before applying for insurance, and the insurance company has to provide it, everybody will just wait til they get sick to get insurance and pretty soon nobody will have insurance or health care, either one.)

This is a very good point.  What does our school system look like when only the parents of children attending a given district paid?  That situation leads to huge disparities between districts.  Now imagine going a step further and only paying when their kids actually attended.  Would that work everywhere?  What would the tax burden for those particular families be?  Now imagine pay as you go applied to the police, fire department, hospitals, etc.  Some services are essential and require infrastructure and investment to operate effectively.  Pooling resources allows us, as a society, to get more (or in some cases anything at all) for our buck.  This is where Karoli misses the point:

No, actually what Mr. Cranick wanted was grace — the ability to pay whatever he needed to pay at that moment and in that time to get them to turn on the damned hoses. What he wanted was someone to say yes, we will accept your perfectly good money and turn the water on for you. What he wanted was forgiveness, which is above all else, the foundation of Christian values and principles. That’s what Mr. Cranick wanted.

His money wasn’t perfectly good.  Again, if everyone acted that way, there would be no Fire Department.  Now perhaps if we ran a Christian society where grace and forgiveness were law, then the Fire Department would have been obligated to respond.  Ironically, Bryan’s argument is a secular one – one which does not rely on any sort of religious precept to make its point – it works just fine with logic.  Bryan doesn’t seem to get that himself:

This story illustrates the fundamental difference between a sappy, secularist worldview, which unfortunately too many Christians have adopted, and the mature, robust Judeo-Christian worldview which made America the strongest and most prosperous nation in the world. The secularist wants to excuse and even reward irresponsibility, which eventually makes everybody less safe and less prosperous. A Christian worldview rewards responsibility and stresses individual responsibility and accountability, which in the end makes everybody more safe and more prosperous.

Actually that “sappy” worldview is Christian.  The view that suggests Mr Cranick should have paid properly isn’t one that stresses individual responsibility.  It is a pragmatic one that says “if we want x, we need to do y”.  Simple, no god-magic needed.

Don’t get me wrong, John and Karoli are dead on in their criticism of Bryan Fischer and his religious-political views.  One would not have to stretch the imagination to call them anti-Christian, and they are clearly anti-American.  We are not a theocracy, no matter how hard extremists like Mr Fischer might wish it.

That being said, Cranick’s actions expose a gaping flaw in the reality challenged perspective of the libertarian.  Sometimes – not always – taking a communal approach to resources and services is a far wiser move than leaving them to the unstable winds of the market.

It leaves one with some interesting food for thought though.  What would a truly Christian country look like?  With tithes – there would surely be taxes.  With grace and compassion, there would surely be a social safety net.  Christian conservatives can count on opposition from secularists who respect freedom of and from religion as a founding precept of this country of ours.  Its only a matter of time before their own argument bites them in the ass, as the heart and soul of Christianity is anything but violent, fearful, reactionary, or conservative.