It's time! It's time for political correctness to no longer overrule common sense and public safety. It's time we all take a stand for the public good and not let those with agendas put our lives, safety and property at risk.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about the fire this past week in Cicero - a fire that took the lives of seven people, a fire whose risks of occurring multiplied exponentially because of the number of people (estimated to be 30-40) living in a two-story, 116-year-old frame building.
As I've written in the past, I have worked with the 25th District housing subcommittee regarding "illegal conversions." That is when an unscrupulous landlord or homeowner takes a space that wasn't designed for people to live in and turns it into a living quarter. During the early 1990s, this practice occurred so much in the Belmont-Cragin district, which lies just north of Austin, that almost every bungalow in the area eventually became an illegal apartment building. It also occurred during the heyday of lots of jobs and a booming economy. It occurred during a time when "no vacancy" was the norm and people couldn't find a place to live.
As I read about the deaths in Cicero, one part caught my attention: "Cicero tried to impose an occupancy limit in 1991, but the U.S. Justice Department sued, charging that the ordinance discriminated against Hispanics. In 1997, Cicero signed an agreement with the federal government over the ordinance."
The family members who died weren't Hispanics. They were African Americans and U.S. citizens. But because of illegal immigration and a desire to call any laws that would limit overcrowding as "racism" against Hispanics, who are the primary practitioners, a lot of municipalities were unable to do anything about it. So rules weren't enforced and landlords and homeowners went about putting as many people under one roof as possible.
Now 20 years later, with the U.S. economy in a shambles and the housing market crumbling, there are more vacancies than people who can afford to rent them. So families are doubling and tripling up because individually they are no longer able to afford a place of their own. And even if neighbors had complained about at least 12 people living in one apartment, Cicero couldn't do anything about it because the federal lawsuit limited the city's rights.
So we now have four dead children and three dead young adults. I bet the U.S. Justice Department won't be at the funeral to see seven caskets lined up in a row. Or show up to be pallbearers since it was their lawsuit that legally allowed so many folks to sardine in together.
I think I have the solution.
I am calling on our state legislators to pass a law that prevents the electric company from adding more electric meters to a building without a permit from the local municipality. For example, in a single family home, there should be a single meter for the building. In a two flat, there are three - one for each apartment and one for the basement and common area.
Currently, Com Ed will add an unlimited number of meters to a house. Why? Because there is nothing to prevent them. People who illegally convert their property want to separate out the electric bill. Otherwise one bill for an entire building can soar as each area runs electric devices, which consume tons of electricity. If a single bungalow is illegally converted, the owner will have the first floor, basement, and attic all on separate meters.
It is very interesting that People's Gas won't add additional gas meters, but Com Ed will. So to heat those locations, the owners install electric baseboard heaters which we all know run an electric bill sky-high. If an owner had to get a permit from the city before adding additional electric meters, guess what? They couldn't get permission because the city shows the home as single family and not a two- or three-flat.
What about houses that have already done this? The law should require electric companies to report all addresses that currently have more than one but less than, say, 10 meters. Every meter reader has to know there is something suspicious about a house in a neighborhood of single-family homes with five meters on the outside. The city can then investigate to see if the meters are legitimate, fine the landlord and have them deconvert the illegal conversion and allow only city-authorized electricians to remove the meter, thus forcing the owner to pay a ridiculous amount of money for the work and putting electricians back to work.
My suggestion might not have helped the Cicero fire victims, but if municipalities could set a limit on the number of individuals who can legally occupy a space, perhaps those babies would be alive today.
Shame on everybody for making their political agenda more important than people's lives.
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