After Chicago heatwave deaths, new cooling rules approved

Cooling requirements in some residential buildings will be strengthened following a vote by the Chicago City Council Wednesday.

The changes were proposed by Ald. Maria Hadden after three women died in their apartments in a senior housing facility in Rogers Park in May during a week of record-breaking heat. Residents of the building, located in Hadden’s 49th Ward, said they had complained about the units being too hot.

Hadden also introduced changes to the city’s rules on heating, but the section of the new ordinance addressing heating systems was tabled by the committee Tuesday so it can be worked on further before the colder months roll in.

The measure cleared the full city council without debate.

“We’re going to be able to provide some immediate cooling relief” to seniors and residents in large buildings, Hadden told colleagues on the floor.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot thanked Hadden for her leadership, calling the change “clearly necessary and a gap in our ordinance.”

The revised cooling requirements would go into effect 10 days later.

Hadden’s office issued a statement Tuesday afternoon after measures cleared a council committee, saying she was “pleased to see the City take swift action by passing these changes to our cooling amendment. The expansions to the cooling requirements will help keep our most vulnerable residents safe as we continue to see the impacts of climate change. We know that there is still work to be done on changes to the heating ordinance, and we look forward to working with our colleagues to prioritize these changes. ”

The revisions include requiring permanent air conditioning in all new construction of senior facilities and larger residential buildings and it must be operated on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees. Also, senior homes will have to follow the cooling requirements already in place for nursing homes, and will have to install cooling and dehumidification equipment in common areas that can operate independently from heating systems.

Residents of the James Sneider Apartments, where the three women died, have said they were by building managers that they mistakenly believed city ordinance required them to keep the heat on in the building until June 1. The ordinance, now set to be amended, had a daytime temperature requirement of at least 68 degrees from Sept. 15 to June 1 but has no requirement that the heat has to stay on if temperatures naturally exceed that threshold.

The family of one of the women who died in the apartment building, Janice Reed, is suing the owners and managers for wrongful death. Reed was 68. Temperature readings done in Reed’s unit after she was found unresponsive were around 102 and 103 degrees, attorney Larry Rogers Jr., who is representing the Reed’s family in their lawsuit, said earlier.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez of the 22nd Ward, said during the committee hearing the loss of “fellow Chicagoans recently, some of our seniors, is very tragic.”

“It’s very rare when we as City Council persons actually have an opportunity to do something immediately on a challenge that’s facing our residents and do something immediately that actually saves people’s lives,” he said. “I think we need to move forward now, and I will not stand for letting our residents down.”

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