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City Council approves new cooling requirements for senior buildings, high rises, in wake of heat deaths at Rogers Park apartments

City Council approves new cooling ordinance
City Council approves new cooling ordinance 00:34

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Aldermen on Wednesday approved an ordinance requiring senior housing complexes and other large apartment buildings to soon provide air-conditioned cooling centers, in hopes of avoiding another tragedy like the recent deaths of three women at a sweltering senior apartment building in Rogers Park.

The ordinance, sponsored by Rogers Park Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), would require any housing complex for seniors to provide cooling systems in all common areas, capable of keeping the inside temperature at no more than 75° and the inside humidity at no more than 50% whenever the outdoor temperature is 92° and the "wet bulb temperature," a measurement of heat and humidity separate from the more common "heat index," reaches at least 75°.

In addition, any residential buildings with at least 100 dwelling units would be required to provide a permanent cooling system capable of maintaining an indoor temperature of 75° and an indoor humidity of no more than 50% in one common area whenever the outdoor temperature is 92° and the "wet bulb temperature" is at least 75°.

In both cases, those buildings would have to have to have temporary cooling systems in place by July 31, and permanent systems installed by May 1, 2024.

The ordinance also would require permanent air conditioning in all newly constructed daycare centers, pre-K through 12th grade schools, and residential building projects.

Under city codes, nursing homes in Chicago already are required to provide air conditioning that keeps all habitable spaces, restrooms, and public corridors at no more than 75° when the temperature outside reaches 92°. The ordinance would add a provision requiring the same cooling levels when the "wet bulb temperature" reaches at least 78°.

The new cooling requirements were approved by a unanimous vote of the City Council on Wednesday.

"We're going to be able to provide some immediate cooling relief to our seniors and to residents in large buildings," Hadden said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the measure was "clearly needed" to address a gap in the city's building code as the city moves into the hot summer months.

"This ordinance will help insure that, no matter the weather, all of our residents, no matter where they live, have access to temperature-controlled spaces," Lightfoot said.

The changes were prompted by the deaths of three women at the James Sneider Apartments in Rogers Park during last month's heat wave. Three women were found dead in the building after temperatures reached 100° in their apartments, even after residents asked management to turn off the heat and put on the air conditioning.

Hadden acknowledged it would have been a major challenge for the city to force large apartment buildings that don't already have air conditioning to provide it for every living unit.

"This ordinance, if it tried to enforce air conditioning all the time in all the units in a strict way, it would be very difficult to implement and enforce," Hadden said Tuesday as the Zoning Committee unanimously approved the ordinance.

During that same hearing, Kristopher Anderson, vice president of government affairs at the Chicago Association of Realtors, had asked aldermen to take more time to discuss the ordinance with building managers and landlords before imposing the new cooling requirements.

"I think it's important to make sure facilities experts, building operators, and maintenance personnel are involved in this process," he said.

Anderson said that even a deadline nearly two years away for the permanent cooling systems required under the ordinance could be hard for some buildings to meet, given the current state of the economy.

"Coming out of a pandemic, and possibly headed toward a recession, I caution against a deadline 24 months away. Supply chain shortages are still a reality. Labor markets are still out of whack due to the Great Resignation, and the city's own permitting process is not one that most people can easily navigate," Anderson said.

However, Chicago Buildings Commissioner Matthew Beaudet told aldermen on Tuesday he believes the two-year deadline will be sufficient for building owners to come into compliance with the permanent cooling system requirements, and pledged city officials would work with building owners to help them meet the new requirements.

Hadden had wanted her ordinance to go further, by requiring building owners to make temperature adjustments in the often unpredictable months of May and October, but several aldermen expressed concerns with making such changes right away.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) noted Tuesday that many buildings in Chicago use so-called "two-pipe" cooling and heating systems, which can take a matter of days to switch from heating to cooling and back again, which would make it difficult to provide either heat or air conditioning on specific dates in the more unpredictable spring and fall months.

Rather than push forward now with additional heating and cooling requirements in May and October, Hadden has agreed to work with Hopkins and other concerned aldermen over the next several weeks to come up with a suitable compromise in time for the fall.

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