Key City Council committee approves new cooling requirements for senior centers and large apartment buildings

CHICAGO (SCS) — After three women died in a stuffy building in Rogers Park During a heat wave last month, Chicago aldermen on Tuesday advanced an order requiring senior housing complexes and other large apartment buildings to provide air-conditioned cooling centers soon.

The prescription, sponsored by Rogers Park Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), would require any housing complex for the elderly to provide cooling systems in all common areas, capable of maintaining the indoor temperature at a maximum of 75° and the indoor humidity at a maximum of 50% when the outdoor temperature is of 92.° and the “wet bulb temperature”, a measure of heat and humidity distinct from the more common “heat index”, reaches at least 75°.

In addition, any residential building with at least 100 dwellings 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 a common area when the outdoor temperature is 92° and the “wet bulb temperature” is at least 75°.

Either way, if the ordinance is approved by the full city council on Wednesday as planned, those buildings will have to have temporary cooling systems in place by July 31 and permanent systems installed by May 1. 2024.

According to city codes, retirement homes in Chicago are already required to provide air conditioning that keeps all living spaces, restrooms and public hallways at a maximum of 75° when the outside temperature reaches 92°. The ordinance would add a provision requiring the same levels of cooling when the “wet bulb temperature” reaches at least 78°.

The new cooling requirements were approved by a unanimous zoning committee vote on Tuesday and are going to the full city council for a vote on Wednesday.

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 apartmentseven after residents asked management to turn off the heating and turn on the air conditioning.

Hadden acknowledged that 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 to every living unit.

“This order, if it tried to enforce air conditioning permanently in all units in a strict manner, it would be very difficult to implement and enforce,” Hadden said.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, 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 new cooling requirements.

“I think it’s important to make sure that facility experts, building operators and maintenance personnel are involved in this process,” he said.

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

“Coming out of a pandemic and possibly heading into a recession, I caution against a deadline in 24 months. Supply chain shortages are still a reality. Labor markets are still out of whack due to the big resignation and clearance process from the city is not one that most people can easily navigate,” Anderson said.

However, Chicago Buildings Commissioner Matthew Beaudet said he thinks the two-year deadline will be enough for building owners to comply with the permanent cooling system requirements, and promised that those responsible for the city would work with building owners to help them meet the new requirements.

Hadden had wanted his ordinance to go further, requiring building owners to make temperature adjustments during the often unpredictable months of May and October, but several aldermen have expressed concern about bringing such changes immediately.

Aldus. Brian Hopkins (2nd) noted that many buildings in Chicago use so-called “two-pipe” cooling and heating systems, which can take a few days to switch from heating to cooling and back again, making it difficult to supply heat or air conditioning on specific dates during the more unpredictable spring and fall months.

Rather than moving forward now with additional heating and cooling needs in May and October, Hadden agreed to work with Hopkins and other affected aldermen over the coming weeks to find an appropriate compromise in time to autumn.

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