ROGERS PARK — Ald. Maria Hadden is proposing changes to the city’s heating and cooling laws after three women died in a Rogers Park senior building where management allegedly refused to turn off the heat and turn on air condition during sweltering temperatures.
The 49th ward alderperson introduce two ordinance changes at City Council Wednesday that would amend which senior facilities are required to have air conditioning and at what temperature cooling systems should be activated.
Currently, nursing homes are required to have air conditioning. The new ordinance would add other housing types to that list, including: elderly housing, adult family care centers and adult family care homes.
The ordinance would also reduce the outdoor temperature by which cooling systems must be activated from the current 100 degrees to 84 degrees or if the heat index reaches or exceeds 80 degrees, according to a draft of the ordinance.
Hadden is also trying to amend the time frame in which the city’s heating ordinance is in effect.
Currently, a minimum temperature must be maintained between Sept. 15 and June 1. The change would reduce the heating ordinance time frame to Oct. 1 through June 1.
It would also add language to the ordinance that requires heating when the temperature falls below 50 during daytime hours and below 40 during the night.
The ordinance changes are proposed after the three deaths at James Sneider Apartments, in which the building’s landlord allegedly cited the city’s heating ordinance extending through June 1 as reason it couldn’t turn on the air during a brutal early May heat wave.
In the wake of the senior deaths, Hadden said she would work to firm up city laws requiring cooling and heating systems in an effort to prevent similar deaths in the future.
“If we need to be more prescriptive, we will be,” Hadden said Tuesday.
The ordinances were introduced Wednesday and will be considered by the city’s Committee on Zoning and Land Use before being taken up by the City Council.
The law changes are modeled on the best practices of other major cities, said Leslie Perkins, Hadden’s chief of staff. Hadden’s office is working with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office and other city departments on the proposed changes.
“We feel that these are a solid foundation to make necessary changes, but slight adjustments might be made as we continue talks with them,” Perkins said in an email. “We do feel it was important to get something introduced so the city can take swift action on this.”
Gwendolyn E. Osborne, Janice Reed and Delores McNeely were found dead May 14 in their apartments at James Sneider Apartments, 7450 N. Rogers Ave.
First responders arrived that same day to help cool cool down the senior living building where some units were as hot as 103 degrees, according to residents and attorneys for the deceased.
Residents of the 55-and-up James Sneider building complained about the temperature in their units days before the women were found dead and just as Chicago experienced an unseasonably early heat wave.
Despite complaining of the temperature, building management did not turn off the heat and turn on air conditioning, officials said. Hadden said asked to get the building’s air conditioning turned on, but management cited the city’s minimum heat requirements as reason they couldn’t turn on the air.
In a statement, leaders of the prolific affordable housing organization Hispanic Housing Development Corporation said it is cooperating into the death investigations.
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of three women who made our James Sneider Apartments their home. We mourn the loss of Janice Reed, Gwendolyn Osborne and Delores McNeely and send our deepest sympathies to their families and friends,” the firm said in a statement.
“Hispanic Housing Development Corporation has long been devoted to providing affordable homes and services that allow seniors to remain independent. The safety and security of all our residents have always been our highest priority. We are working with the city of Chicago and conducting our own investigation into last week’s circumstances.”
Hadden has also called for City Council hearings into the deaths.
The families of Osborne and Reed have said they will file suit against James Sneider Apartments. Osborne’s son, Ken Rye, said Tuesday the family was in shock especially after making such “thorough” plans for the matriarch’s retirement.
“We lost somebody way too early who was actively fighting on behalf of other people,” Rye said at a press conference. “This is the last thing we ever expected would happen to my mother. We just have to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
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