Electrical Fires

“When you pay rent somewhere, you pay to feel safe, not to worry about if your house is going to catch on fire.” 

That’s a quote from the article linked here.

Interestingly enough I bought a house from Will Sherard, the “notorious” landlord mentioned in the article. Most of what was said in the article I find to be true, but the issues aren’t limited to shotty electrical work. The quality of most repairs I have seen in properties I’ve toured or bought in 53206 tend to be on par with the bare minimum of what could be considered repairs. The house I bought from Will caught fire before both he or I owned it, and both the materials and quality of installation were far below my threshold for acceptable. In fact, I ended up replacing more “new” work than old. The windows used were garage windows. They were framed in incorrectly. The hardwood floor was painted blue and patched with concrete. When I went to sand the floors down to refinish them it was quite a surprise to find patches that needed to be broken out and replaced with new hardwood. 

Seeing the repair work done on our first two rentals, which were rentals long before we owned them, shaped the way I approach home renovations. In the past I was inclined to settle for good enough, but after fixing plenty of crap work, I adopted the mentality of not pissing off the next guy who was going to come in and fix up the place. In all reality it’ll probably still be me 30 years from now, but if not, then the quality of work is good enough not to be scoffed at a few decades down the road. 

This is one of the components of stabilizing housing in 53206 and inner cities across the country. I’m not suggesting any real solutions other than to say that if the general quality of craftsmanship in home repairs and remodels in my neighborhood improved, then transiency would decrease. My tenants don’t want to move, because their places are nice. It’s a win win. Instability in housing leads to all sorts of other issues, which hamper economic mobility. Unstable housing in poor neighborhoods is a complex problem. Complex problems are solved much in the same way a knot is untied – you pick at the problem from multiple angles until you start to make progress. You attack one spot until something moves. When you’ve made progress, you move onto a new spot. 

One thing I would caution with this is assuming that we should create government oversight committees or mandate inspections on properties when the exchange hands. Unstable housing is a societal problem. It’s a problem that disproportionately affects people in my neighborhood. Because of the demographic makeup of my zip code and the high concentrations of poverty this also is a social justice issue. I hesitate to solve social justice issues with governmental policies when the solution could be found within enough people intentionally making choices to contribute to the solution of the problem. It wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t a hundred electricians in the metro Milwaukee area that would do pro-bono work 5 times a year to ensure that my neighbors don’t have to worry about their houses burning down. More and more I think we are going to see issues plaguing 53206 as social justice problems, which I believe to be the correct framing. A thought that has been on my mind today is that just because something has been one way for a long time doesn’t mean it needs to be that way forever. When we think outside the box a little and start to ask what could be, we are inclined to dream a little. 53206 needs people of all colors dreaming up what the next interaction of this zip code could be because what we have now isn’t how it should be.