ROGERS PARK — Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) is demanding city hearings to investigate the Rogers Park senior living complex where three women died of suspected heat exhaustion after residents complained of sweltering conditions.
Hadden wants to haul the building’s embattled landlord, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, before city officials to answer questions about the tragedy, which came after Hadden said she asked management to turn on the air conditioning to no avail.
The seniors were found dead Saturday at James Sneider Apartments, 7450 N. Rogers Ave., adjacent to the CTA’s Howard Street bus and train station. Residents complained for days about the heat in the building as Chicago saw a fast warmup, prompting Hadden to ask management to cool down the building, she said.
Now, Hadden is asking the City Council’s housing committee to hold hearings into the building’s management and how the deaths occurred, she announced Monday.
The hearings will look to see what went wrong but also to look for recommendations so the City Council can craft laws to prevent heat-related deaths in such residences, Hadden said.
“We don’t have an enforceable ordinance,” she said. “There’s a lot of relying on common sense. … We can’t have more people die.”
The three women have been identified as Delores McNeely, 76, Janice Reed, 68, and Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
The deaths appear to be due to complications of heat exhaustion, Hadden said. The medical examiner has yet not released an official cause of death for the women.
Residents of the 55-and-up building complained about the temperature in their units as early as Tuesday, when Chicago experienced an unseasonably early heat wave.
Hadden said she asked Hispanic Housing Development Corporation on Thursday to turn on the air. That request was denied, she said in videos posted to Facebook over the weekend.
In her ordinance requesting hearings, Hadden said Hispanic Housing Development Corporation said it was aware of the heat complaints but “miscited” the city’s ordinance on minimum heat requirements as reason they couldn’t turn on the cooling system.
The city’s heat ordinance requires landlords keep temperatures at least at 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees at night between Sept. 15 and June 1.
Building residents told some media outlets the building’s policy was not to turn air conditioning on until June 1.
Authorities were called to the building Saturday to perform wellness checks on residents and to begin trying to cool down the building. The Fire Department blew cool air in the building to help regulate the temperature, officials said in a tweet. Hadden and Rep. Kelly Cassidy helped to get the air conditioning turned on, Hadden said.
“It’s so hot in those units,” Hadden said from the scene Saturday. “These are senior residents, residents with health conditions. They should not be in these conditions.”
In a statement, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation leaders said they are cooperating with the city and doing its own investigation into the women’s deaths.
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of three residents at 7450 N. Rogers,” the firm said. “The safety and security of our residents has always been our highest priority at HHDC. We are working with the city of Chicago and conducting our own investigation into the incident.”
A hearing into the deaths has not yet been scheduled, Hadden said.
The city’s departments on Law, Housing, Public Health and Family and Support Services will play a role in the hearings. Hispanic Housing Development Corporation will be asked to testify, according to the draft ordinance introduced by Hadden.
The idea is to find consensus on ways to prevent similar incidents in the future. Other alders have expressed support for the initiative after hearing complaints of overheating in apartments and institutional buildings, Hadden said.
“Everyone is in lock step on this,” she said.
Cassidy said she is talking with state Sen. Mike Simmons about ways to hold landlords who accept public funds accountable when such issues arise. James Sneider Apartments is a mixed-income building that receives federal housing funds, Hadden said.
The two officials will also host a town hall with residents to address their concerns, Cassidy said.
Hispanic Housing Development Corporation has been the source of resident complaints and regulatory scorn before.
The nonprofit’s building for veterans in Humboldt Park was found to be littered with problems, with residents saying the building hurt the residents it intended to help, according to a Block Club investigation.
Last year, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation paid a $1.5 million fine in a class-action lawsuit for allegedly failing to provide tenants of housing regulations, among other infractions, according to the Sun-Times.
Hispanic Housing is a prominent Chicago-based developer of affordable housing, having built over 4,000 units in the Midwest, according to its website.
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