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Residents Await Relief From Heat After State Clarifies Law Regarding AC In Public Housing

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) - The Cambridge Housing Authority began the process of turning on air conditioning in their building on Erie Street one day after residents complained of brutally hot temperatures inside during the summer's first official heatwave.

On Monday, CHA told WBZ that they had not turned the A/C on citing a Massachusetts regulation that says residents should have access to heat until June 15.

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said the law does not prevent owners from turning on the AC.

"State law and the housing code regulations do not prevent any housing owner from turning on A/C. The housing code is silent on air conditioning but currently requires heat be available until June 15 to maintain minimum temperatures. Any owner can turn off heat and turn on A/C as long as minimum temperatures are maintained during the heat season," a department spokesperson wrote in an email.

Since WBZ first reported the issue in Cambridge, other reports have surfaced about similar issues in Boston and Lynn.

Mary Jo Keating, a resident in elderly housing in Charlestown, said her building manager cited the same law while resisting turning on the air conditioning before the heatwave. The AC was finally turned on Friday after Keating complained to the city of Boston.

"We'd probably have people die in this building. We have people over 90 years old," said Keating, had the AC not been turned on.

Cambridge State Representative Marjorie Decker says that local housing authorities can petition to their boards of health to turn the air conditioning on before June 15. Decker and other local lawmakers are also looking into how similar issues can be prevented in the future.

"Some common sense problem solving probably needed to prevail," Decker said.

Complicating matters, turning over the HVAC system from heat to air conditioning is not a simple process. On Monday, a worker could be seen on the roof of the Erie Street building starting the process which could take days, according to the CHA.

Residents who have lived in the building for several years say action is long over due.

"In the past, at least three or four people have been taken to the hospital because of the heat," said resident Marion Freeman.

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