EDITORIAL: Placing blame for the Greensboro fire

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agapion
3012 Summit Avenue, owned by the Agapion family. February 2015

Nobody sets a house fire on purpose.

Well, sometimes they do, but that clearly was not the case in the Greensboro house fire at the Heritage Apartments that claimed the lives of five children, an entire generation from this family who emigrated to the city from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Still, there is plenty of blame to go around.

The only innocents are the five children who perished. They can no longer speak for themselves.

The Agapion family, owners of the property, have been cited numerous times over the years for squalid conditions at some of their more affordable rental units, and in 2006 paid out a settlement to a family whose child got lead poisoning in one of their apartments.

The father of the deceased children told the News & Record he had complained that his stove would set small fires in his kitchen. According to the article, smoke detectors that are required by law to be in the place never went off. Police told the N&R that no work orders exist for this unit, meaning there has never been any intention to repair any of these things.

Greensboro once had a citywide rental unit certificate of occupancy ordinance, requiring landlords’ buildings to pass inspection before renting the units inside. It passed in 2003, and was threatened by councilmembers and developers for years. Perhaps all who opposed it now might reconsider their position?

RUCO went down in 2013 — the result of a new state law enacted in 2011, shortly after the Republicans took the majority of the state legislature for the first time since the 1800s. The law, sponsored by Sen. Harris Blake (Harnett, Lee, Moore; died in 2014), Sen. Andrew Brock (Davie, Iredell; retired in 2017), Sen. James Forrester (Iredell, Gaston, Lincoln; died in 2011); Sen. Ralph Hise (Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancey; serving his fourth term) and Sen. Jerry Tillman (Moore, Randolph; now the Senate majority whip),

May the smell of charred flesh never leave their nostrils.

We can also blame real estate lobbyists like TREBIC, who pushed for this law, developers large and small who supported their efforts, voters who supported the politicians who voted for the law and plenty of other parties.

The only ones who were innocent were those five children who perished in the blaze. And they’re not here to speak for themselves.

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