Heat Exposure Deaths Inspire Proposed Air Conditioning Requirements in Illinois

Heat Exposure Deaths Inspire Proposed Air Conditioning Requirements in Illinois


Heat Exposure Deaths Inspire Proposed Air Conditioning Requirements in Illinois (Chicago, IL) (via The Center Square) —Two bills in the Illinois legislature this session will require air conditioning, or at least a common room with air conditioning, in buildings housing seniors.


Last May, when a heat wave sent temperatures in Illinois soaring into the high 90s, three older women living in state-subsidized housing died of heat exposure in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. The three seniors, Delores McNeely, 76, Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, and Janice Reed, 68, were constituents of state Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago. Two separate bills now aim to prevent these types of deaths,

Simmons sponsored a proposal that would require all state-funded affordable housing to have air conditioning. The bill passed the state Senate in March.

In the Illinois House, state Rep. Hoan Huynh, D-Chicago, is sponsoring similar legislation that is more comprehensive. Huynh’s bill would apply to different types of public and private housing, said Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois. In Huynh’s bill, buildings that do not have air conditioning are required to provide an air-conditioned common room where residents can go to cool off in a heat wave.

“They are both good bills. More Illinois seniors will be safe and comfortable this summer if they pass,” Palmer told The Center Square.

Thousands of seniors with very low incomes can’t even dream of paying for air conditioning, Palmer said.

“The vast majority of seniors and other at-risk populations, including people with disabilities, are living in privately owned housing where there are requirements about heat but, for the most part, there are no requirements for cooling,” he said.

Nearly half a million Illinoisans who live in poverty pay more than 50% of their incomes for housing, Palmer said. They live “close to the edge” where one job layoff or one injury or illness can put them at risk of eviction. With rock-bottom incomes under $15,000 a year, Illinois” poorest seniors have trouble buying food, medicines and necessities. There is no money leftover for air conditioning.

In March, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Housing Action Illinois found that Illinois is lacking 300,000 affordable housing units for the 443,746 poorest households in the state. For every 100 extremely low-income renters, there are only 34 affordable and available units, the report found.

The report defines “very low income” in the Chicago area as households that earn less than $31,250 a year for a family of four, and $22,000 a year for a single person. Many seniors on Social Security live on half of that, Palmer said.

“We hear complaints about lack of heat, windows that don’t work, doors that don’t shut properly, appliances that don’t operate, pest infestation,” he said.

In 2023, extremely low-income renters will continue to face significant barriers when they look for safe and affordable places to live, the Housing Action Illinois report said.

“Decent and safe housing is a human right,” Palmer said. “Public policy and government spending should ensure that the basic housing needs of all people are met.”

Heat Exposure Deaths Inspire Proposed Air Conditioning Requirements in Illinois

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