PORTSMOUTH—For the second time in the last month, residents of the Kendall Heights Housing Project experienced a lengthy power outage, leaving many in the dark and waiting for answers.
Kendall Heights, colloquially known to many locals as “Wayne Hills,” initially experienced a widespread power outage on July 7. According to resident Chelsea Watkins, the first outage lasted around 14 hours.
“At about midnight I was sitting in my kitchen and I heard a giant boom. I thought someone hit a telephone pole, but I walked outside and an indicator light on the transformer was blinking. I didn’t know what it was and worried that the line was on fire, so I called the Fire Department, and we were out here all night with that.”
Watkins reported that she and other residents lost nearly the entire contents of their refrigerators due to the duration of the outage. And since Kendall Heights is income-based housing, restocking the items is an expense that not every resident is able to bear.
“A lot of us haven’t even had time to calculate the [total] loss. A lot of people assume that we all have food stamps or cash assistance, and that we all get so much help, and that we are just laying [around], not doing anything. And that’s not happening here. A [neighbor] I’ve been talking to works from home, pays $500 a month to live here, and has no food stamps. And she just lost everything for a second time,” Watkins explained.
Shortly after midnight on July 20, residents of Kendall Heights lost power again. This time, power would not be fully restored to the complex until 11 a.m. on July 21, leaving many residents without power for over 30 hours.
Watkins said that she and other residents fear the financial and hygienic implications of the spoiled food from lack of refrigeration. And they worry if they could be left vulnerable to another lengthy outage in the future.
“I don’t really feel like anything was done on the seventh—I feel like a lot of it was swept under the rug,” Watkins said. “Which is something that happens to us very often. A lot of us are angry. I’ve talked to people who are deciding between rent and food, or bills and food. Now, everyone is kind of panicked. And we aren’t getting very clear answers on exactly how they’re going to help us get our food back. That isn’t our fault,” Watkins explained.
According to instructions regarding food spoilage in power outages from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if the doors of the appliance are kept closed to retain remaining refrigerated air, food will last in a refrigerator for only four hours before it should be thrown out. Frozen food can last for only 24-48 hours depending on how full the appliance is of food.
While these times can be extended by quickly utilizing coolers, ice packs, or dry ice, for residents of low income or income-based housing, those items can’t always be obtained. And Watkins said that while her housing community is helping each other however they can, they worry about the future.
“We’ve been trying to check on people, because we have a lot of people here with disabilities or who are on disability. We have people who are amputees, people who are on CPAP machines, elderly people, people with special needs, and we have several big families here with a lot of kids—I saw a lady outside with a jug of water trying to heat it up to be able to make formula for her kid. Our community is standing together as best they can, and I really can’t say enough about PMHA Maintenance. They jumped straight here, with West End Electric, and worked all night,” she said.
Watkins reached out to the Portsmouth Daily Times at approximately 4:24 p.m. on July 22 to indicate that she had received a letter from the Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Authority (PMHA) documenting the approximate time in which her unit was without power. She said that PMHA instructed her to take the letter to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services for possible food assistance reimbursement.
PMHA, which manages and maintains the property indicated in a statement on social media that for the Kendall Heights power grid to fail multiple times was an “extremely rare occasion.” PMHA noted that the cause for power failure was determined by both PMHA Maintenance and West End Electric to be related to power equipment owned by PMHA—particularly the power grid and mechanisms/lines which distribute power throughout the site.
Watkins said that a line which once ran underground has now been replaced with an above-ground line which would be buried at a later date. She says that maintenance workers told her that for the line to be safely buried, power would be shut off yet again.
And while she admires the response of the people on the ground working to help, she worries that the residents of Kendall Heights will be feeling the ripple effect of the outages disproportionately.
“In my opinion, if this was a more affluent part of Portsmouth, it wouldn’t have been kept so silent. And contingency plans would have been made, and folks wouldn’t have to fend for themselves. There is such a stigma on us, because of socioeconomic status, because there’s a stigma about drug use, not working, and violence here. I think people are more okay with turning a blind eye toward us,” Watkins said.
In a social media statement, PMHA indicated that they are “sorry for any inconvenience that this unpredictable power outage may have caused,” and they assured residents that they “will always do everything they possibly can to ensure that [they] continue to provide safe, decent, and sanitary housing to [their] residents.”
The Portsmouth Daily Times reached out to PMHA multiple times for comment regarding plans to help reimburse residents for their losses. At press time, our requests for comment were not returned.