CHICAGO — On Tuesday, the city’s Zoning Committee gave the nod to a new cooling ordinance that aims to prevent heat-related deaths.

The unanimous decision comes amid another sweltering week in Chicago. The ordinance goes before the full City Council for approval on Wednesday.

“I am not one to delay this effort. I think we need to move forward now. I will not stand for letting our residents down,” said Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd Ward).

3 dead allegedly due to excess heat at Rogers Park apartment building

Department of Buildings commissioner Matt Beaudet explained what the ordinance entails.

“The amendment requires in large buildings and in all 55-plus senior living facilities, cooling centers be established in a closed common gathering area, accessible to all residents free of charge when the heat index is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher,” Beaudet said.

The rule would also apply to all highrise residential buildings 80 feet or taller or with 100 or more units.

The move comes after the tragedy in Rogers Park last month, at the James Sneider Apartments, where three senior residents died May 14 during a heat wave. Janice Reed, Gwendolyn Osborne and Delores McNeely were found unresponsive inside their rooms.

Residents of the senior apartment complex believe the heat contributed to their deaths.

The building’s management had not yet turned on the air conditioning, citing their misunderstanding of a city ordinance.

The city requires buildings to maintain a minimum temperature of 68 degrees from Sept. 15 until June 1.

Most highrises and senior facilities have a two-pipe system, which makes switching back and forth from heat to A/C difficult. The new ordinance does not prevent A/C from being turned on before June 1, as long as the minimum temperature is maintained. 

Some aldermen feel the new ordinance doesn’t go far enough to protect seniors who might not be mobile.

“I can’t see them going all the way downstairs to a cooling room or center so they can cool down,” said Ald. Felix Cardona (31st Ward).

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Added Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward): “I had that exact experience of a couple on the 10th floor on the west corner unit, in one of the hottest units and they hadn’t come downstairs to the cooling center that had been set up because one of them had mobility issues.”

The ordinance would require buildings to install temporary A/C units in common areas by July 30 and have a permanent cooling system for lounges and meeting rooms by May 2024. 

The city also mandates air conditioning in all new construction for residential and pre-k through 12th-grade buildings. 

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