Residents complained of oppressive heat at Rogers Park senior complex days before 3 women were found dead
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) told the Chicago Sun-Times that she thinks a lack of air conditioning in the building likely caused the deaths.
Correction: A previous version of this story should have said that a city ordinance requires rental properties be at least 66 degrees during overnight hours, from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., and 68 degrees otherwise from Sept. 15 to June 1.
Residents of a senior living facility in Rogers Park where three elderly women were found dead Saturday began complaining four days earlier that the building was oppressively hot, according to the local alderperson and a tenant.
Between 11:10 a.m. and 7 p.m., the women — aged 68, 72 and 76 — were found separately unresponsive inside units at the James Sneider Apartments, 7450 N. Rogers Ave., according to Chicago police and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) told the Sun-Times that she thinks a lack of air conditioning in the building likely caused the deaths. Although residents only started reaching out to her on Thursday, she said they reported making complaints about the heat as early as Tuesday.
She said it’s “infuriating” that those tasked with managing the 10-story building apparently didn’t “put the life and safety of their residents first,” especially at a complex that gets public money.
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“Anyone who deems to be a housing provider needs to be put on notice for this,” she said.
The medical examiner’s office hasn’t ruled on the cause or manner of the deaths, and Chicago police haven’t identified any potential signs of foul play.
Paul Roldan, the president and chief executive of the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, said his team was “deeply saddened by the deaths of three residents.”
“The safety and security of our residents has always been our highest priority at HHDC,” he added. “We are working with the city of Chicago and conducting our own investigation into the incident.”
A longtime developer of affordable housing, Roldan was formerly the board chair of the Cook County Housing Authority and previously served as co-chair of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Housing Transition Committee after her election in 2019.
In a statement, a Lightfoot spokesperson said: “We will continue taking the necessary measures to make sure the residents of the buildings are safe, and we will make sure that building management owns responsibility for the care of its residents.”
Last April, the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation settled a class-action lawsuit in Cook County court, agreeing to pay $1.5 million for allegedly failing to provide residents with copies of the city’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, and violating regulations related to security deposits. The company denied any wrongdoing.
Cathy, a 75-year-old woman who has lived at the James Sneider Apartments for 18 years, said residents began complaining on Tuesday, when the heat became “unbearable.” Yet the conditions only grew “worse and worse,” according to Cathy, who said her apartment on the fifth floor got as hot as 91 degrees on Wednesday.
“I was just hot and I was scared,” said Cathy, who declined to provide her last name. “I wasn’t mad because, really, I was thinking that the manager was doing everything that she could do.”
Hadden said she went to the building on Thursday to “feel the heat” and learned that no one had air conditioning.
That’s when a facilities manager told her the company was still running heat to avoid potentially being cited by the city for shutting it off too early. A city ordinance requires rental properties be at least 66 degrees during overnight hours, from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., and 68 degrees otherwise from Sept. 15 to June 1, with landlords facing fines of up to $1,000 per day for failing to comply.
The facilities manager also said the company was looking into moving up the schedule for turning on the air conditioning, Hadden noted. Meanwhile, fans were set up to circulate cold air and a “cooling space” with portable air conditioning units was set up in a community room — a move Cathy credited as potentially lifesaving.
“I slept down there for two nights and I was kind of okay,” Cathy said. “I probably would’ve died if I had to stay upstairs in my apartment.”
Hadden said she was notified Saturday afternoon that two of the residents had passed away. She then helped coordinate wellbeing checks throughout the building, which led to the discovery that a third resident had died.
Chicago fire officials later reported “ventilating and blowing cool air” on Saturday to help lower the temperature of the building. And by 12:30 a.m. Sunday, Hadden said the building’s air conditioning system was circulating through the apartments.
She now plans to propose changes to city rules “around cooling and especially around seniors.”
“If we can’t trust these companies to use their common sense, to use their logic and to uphold their responsibility to their tenants,” she said, “then we’ll come up with some new legislation to make them do so.”
Residents concerned about high temperatures in their buildings can call 311 for city assistance.