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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

After 3 Seniors Die During May Heat Wave, City Council Passes New Cooling Rules

City Council passed Ald. Maria Hadden's rule change that requires cooling systems in senior buildings and requires some buildings to set up cooling centers during warm spells.

The James Sneider Apartments, 7448 N. Rogers Ave., in Rogers Park on May 16, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — New cooling standards are coming to senior living buildings in Chicago following the heat-related deaths of three residents of a Rogers Park retirement community.

The City Council on Wednesday passed a rule change that requires cooling systems in senior buildings and requires certain buildings to set up cooling centers in public areas during warm spells.

The rule changes include:

  • All senior living buildings must have cooling systems
  • Senior buildings and buildings with 100-plus units that don’t have working cooling systems must establish a cooling center in a public area of the building when the heat index meets or exceeds 80 degrees
  • New construction must have air conditioning

The changes were proposed by Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) after the deaths of three women in the James Sneider Apartments, 7450 N. Rogers Ave. during a heat wave in May.

Delores McNeely, 76, Janice Reed, 68, and Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, were found dead in their apartments following days of complaints from residents about the heat in the building. It is suspected they died of heat-related causes, Hadden has said.

When asked why air conditioning wasn’t turned on in the building, Hadden said building management 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.

The city’s heating ordinance requires a minimum temperature of 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees at night between Sept. 15 and June 1. But that ordinance does not require heating if outside temperatures are enough to meet the minimum temperature requirement.

The ordinance seeks to clear up when heating and cooling systems should be used following the heat wave deaths. But some of the ordinance’s proposed rule changes were dropped following some blowback from alderpersons.

Hadden’s ordinance was passed by the city’s Zoning Committee Tuesday but only after a contentious portion was stripped from the proposal.

The item was passed without language that would change the minimum temperatures required in buildings and change the timeline by which minimum temperatures are required.

Some alders include Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said landlords and building management should have more opportunity to use their best judgement on when heating and cooling systems should be employed. Hopkins asked that the minimum temperatures clause be removed from the ordinance so that more work can be done.

“This ordinance misses the mark,” he said. “We just need a couple more weeks.”

Hadden agreed to strip the minimum temperature clause from the ordinance, saying city leaders had an imperative to change the law while the city faces a hot start to the summer. She said at the committee meeting that she will meet with colleagues next week to work on the amended heating requirements.

“We amended the item voted on today to focus on the new cooling requirements as this will bring immediate relief to residents during these hot summer temps,” Hadden said on social media. “We’ll continue to work on the heating revisions portion.”

The amended ordinance passed the Zoning Committee on Tuesday. Mayor Lori Lightfoot thanked Hadden for proposing the rule change and said it’s “something that was really necessary and [was] a gap in our ordinance.”

It goes into effect in 10 days.

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