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Every winter around this time, I nervously wait for the flu my house gives me. Six years of sleeping in a room with windows covered in mold causes horrendous sinus congestion, and I'd imagine, has permanently affected my lungs. One heater emits a smell so toxic I do my best to keep it off.

While sitting in my living room, you can feel a breeze so strong, visitors don't believe me when I say the window is closed. And the entire apartment slopes crucially towards the front entrance. If you look under my sink, you can see clear through to the outside. But it's the tight knit, southern-feeling bond that I find in this neighborhood that has kept me in this environment for over six years.

Leaking faucets, poorly insulated buildings and old circuits are just a few of the code violations with disastrous health consequences for the residents of West Oakland, in the form of asthma, arthritis and flu. I even have a monthly ritual where I wash down my walls and windows with bleach in an attempt to keep the mold from the surface of the walls -- a practice that comes with its own health risks.

The other night, a neighbor informed me that as she and her 13-year-old daughter were loading dishes into their cabinets, the entire shelf fell towards them. Luckily, neither was hurt. I have neighbors that go weeks without functioning toilets. I know families that, at times, sleep in the one or two rooms that will stay warm. I've spoken with several West Oakland parents that confine their toddlers to play pens, terrified by the hazards they may encounter in their own home.

Certainly most landlords themselves would never tolerate living in these conditions. While many of us complain to slumlords and property management companies, many of them know they aren't likely to be called to account in the face of residents.


In addition, many of us are desperate to keep housing which is often government-subsidized, and hard to come by. But for me, the black cottage cheese-like spores on my windows and a seasonal flu do little to turn me away from neighbors and a community I love -- even if I have to cough my way through it.

With a Perspective, I'm Xan West.