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Boosting: Act to prevent heat injury and death among Burlington’s most vulnerable citizens – Keep us cool!

April 11, 2013

Act to prevent heat injury and death among Burlington’s most vulnerable citizens – Keep us cool!


I became aware of this situation because a good friend is affected, and thought I should boost, because the situation sounds just appalling.


The Burlington Housing Authority has effectively banned summer air conditioning at its largest property, Decker Towers, a 150 unit high rise for seniors and the disabled, most of whom are at severe risk for heat injury.

As of the summer of 2013, only wheeled portable air conditioners will be allowed. The price of portable air conditioners is well out of reach for most of the residents. The scale of the need is too great for any social services agency to bridge the gap. Even if somehow every tenant obtained a portable air conditioner, tests showed that these air conditioners did not cool apartments adequately and could not be maintained by residents.

What’s so bad about this?

The climate is changing. Heat waves are a permanent feature of the new Vermont. Many of the residents of 230 St. Paul St. are among Burlington’s most vulnerable to heat injury and death. They are Burlington’s sickest, oldest, and poorest residents living outside a hospital or nursing home.

The west-facing apartments at Decker Towers have an especially serious heat problem. Temperatures in west-facing apartments can reach nearly 100 degrees even on a comparatively mild summer day.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a thorough study of individual-level risk factors for heat wave victims. They came up with a list of conditions of vulnerability: living alone, not leaving home daily, lacking access to transportation, being sick or bedridden, not having social contacts nearby, and not having an air conditioner. The first five points describe many Decker Towers residents. If window air conditioners are banned, all six risk factors for heat death will be in place, and tenants will die in Burlington next summer.

Why the new policy?

The BHA has said that water dripping from the air conditioners at Decker Towers damages the new building surface. Since summer rainstorms and melting snows drop more water on the building than years of air conditioning, we find this explanation improbable. Whatever the real reason is, given the lethal consequences of this decision, it cannot be an acceptable reason.

What do we want from you?

Five minutes of your time.


IOW, institutional/bureaucratic arsiness at its best, to the level of depraved indifference. With no adequate reason offered for the policy change, which might well kill people.

More info, from their site:

I have been following Webmuskie on Tumblr, partly to keep up with developments with this. Here’s an update, with some added commentary, from Tuesday, with formatting edited a bit to make it clearer who was commenting where: 

[Click through to see the letter]



The BHA is feeling the heat! I got this letter full of very ripe bullshit today.

Sometimes things are so, well, bizarre, that it’s hard to comment. For example, savings strategies for very low income residents? I’m sure the tenants who rely on the in-building food bank to get through a month should have no problem at all saving about $1000 for pieces of machinery and (it turns out, illegal) fees. Then next month, maybe we’ll save more money and buy a Ferrari.

I am sure they are telling the truth about not intending to cause a health crisis. Because in order to intend to do someone harm, you have to first think about their well-being, and the BHA definitely never does that when it comes to tenants.

I am quite sure the BHA wants to handle this on a case by case basis. That way they don’t have to adress their murderous policy change.

I have been encouraging, and continue to encourage, tenants and nontenants alike to contact the Burlington Housing Authority. Just not the way they want to be contacted.

[feliscorvus:] *gag* Wow, that is some seriously weaselly language they’ve got in there. I notice they don’t say anything about the possibility of residents being able to keep using window units, or even acknowledge the fact that the portable units might work differently or not be as effective in some ways than window ones.

And the whole thing is basically written in that “you’re overreacting, we’re doing everything right, look at how good and nice we are!” style. Ugh.

[youneedacat:] Yeah seriously. I’ve dealt with the BHA before and they love to promote individual solutions to problems that wouldn’t exist if the BHA weren’t being asses. And they like to try to buy out the activists by giving us what we want but letting everyone else be in danger. Been there done that. This letter is bullshit. But it’s the kind of bullshit where they try to look all nice and reasonable and try to make us sound stupid and unreasonable.

But it shows that we are all getting under their skin. So people need to keep calling the people listed on the keepuscool website, keep complaining, keep making things hard for the BHA because banning window air conditioners in a low income senior/disabled complex is deadly whether they claim to be able to work magic with our finances or not. (Seriously they expect ppl here to be able to save money? On what planet? It’s insulting. It’s like those programs that teach poor people how to cook and eat healthy food when the problem is the inability to afford food or afford healthy food in the first place.)


I’ll try to post more updates as they become available. Because this situation is seriously pissing me off, and any further pressure on them to behave humanely would be very welcome indeed. 😦

I’ve personally dealt with risk of serious overheating from medications before, while unable to afford a sufficient AC setup, and also with concerns about the cost of running what we did have. It’s absolutely miserable, besides the risk of death. And I was in a lot better shape with living situation–and a much higher ability to go somewhere cooler, and even dunk myself in a body of water, if things got too bad–than most of the people living in this high rise unit sweatbox. Nobody ought to be put in that position, ever. And it’s entirely too common a level of disregard for actual human beings, dealing with bureaucratic and institutional setups, especially if you’re already vulnerable for some reason.

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