How Does Community Help Us Weather The Storm?
Updated: Mar 15
Texas Multi-Family Housing Q&A with Caroline Kane and Kerry Ream
Texas recently weathered a storm of historic proportions. The low temperatures set records for both daily highs and lows in various parts of the state, even in Houston which does not often flirt with low temperature records. When the electricity went out for many Texans early on the Monday morning of storm week, the world suddenly changed for many people as they contemplated the cold with the one question few knew the answer to: How long would it be before the light, and the heat, came back on?
No matter the living situation of any one person or family, everyone started to reckon with the reality of the storm, and many started to wonder what was next for them or their family. Many traditional neighborhoods went dark, and for the people who have been in one place for a longer period of time, there is a routine and the concept of neighbor checking on neighbors is easier to visualize.
For those who live in multi-family accommodations, while the familiarity may not have been the same, in many ways the struggles were the same and this was a chance for people to re-engage in neighbor-to-neighbor relations and to re-establish communications like never before with new people in their lives. Asking around to people who live in apartment complexes, for instance, it is not uncommon to find someone who has no idea who their neighbors are; they don’t know names, they don’t know numbers, they might only know what vehicle a person drives as they see each other in the common parking areas.
An event like the one Texas recently experienced saw people standing on patios or balconies, even if just for a minute, to communicate with the people around them. Many stopped others as they were going to and from their cars to charge their devices and keep warm or ask where they got the firewood and water. Stories are told of neighbors gathering in hallways to discuss who had been with what power company or who had spoken with the management company or maintenance at the main office to see what they knew. Information was key, especially during some of the worst periods while even cellphones were useless as cell towers froze and a complete information blackout ensued.
Other apartment dwellers fired up their grills, not only as a way to get warmth, but also as a way of using up food before it reached the 48-72 hour spoilage point where much of it may need to be thrown away. We saw neighbors sharing grills, giving food to those that had grills telling them to grill it and keep it. We saw the community coming together.
In another complex, one neighbor used their grill as a way to boil coffee and we saw many coming out of their apartments with coffee cups. We speak a lot about building community but understand apartment living does not always follow suit. It is times like these that remind us how important it is, the beauty found is invaluable. Sharing a cup of coffee with a new neighbor was more than just a random encounter with someone who shares a similar address and your zip code -- it was a connection and a chance to connect while meeting a need in desperate times.
It has been roughly two weeks since the lights came back on and people went back to their “normal” routine, but many residents feel renewed about the place they call home. Many people took the time to talk with fellow dog owners while out on walks, they have learned names, breeds and ages. Other people talked about internet and electricity companies, rates and many find themselves giving their neighbors reminders or their providers contact information. In many ways, the apartment complex and multi-family living as a whole turned into the office water cooler, where a mix of folks fathered at various times to discuss the affairs of the minute.
There is certainly something to be said for living in a “regular” neighborhood, but life is different for all and multi family living is the choice for many. On the property management side we noticed that many are more engaged with the office personnel which is the best way to keep your multi-family dwelling safe, secure and beautifully functional. Each person who takes up living in an apartment complex or other multi-family dwelling, should consider getting to know their neighbors now.
When the temperatures dropped, these acts of kindness we saw were very easy, life saving and took very little time. Checking on the elderly neighbor who minds their own business and never asks anyone for anything or the family with a young child you finally learned the name of made the difference. These acts of kindness become more effective and are better planned in advance, rather than waiting until after the lights get shut off and everyone is in crisis mode. So, resolve to do better by yourself and your neighbor today if you are part of a multi-family living structure. Get to know people, at least a little, and build community where you are. It starts with one.
Some tips for residents:
Stay in contact with your electric provider. Read the fine print and understand your contract rates when signing up with a new provider.
Help after the storm, mental health resources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9JfFr4axh4
FEMA responds to Severe Winter Weather: