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CBC News- ‘You end up sweltering’: Humid weather has this Hamilton tenant urging city to do more, sooner - ACORN Canada

CBC News- ‘You end up sweltering’: Humid weather has this Hamilton tenant urging city to do more, sooner

Posted May 23, 2024

While city staff work on a maximum heat bylaw, councillors deferred paying for air conditioners.

The official start to summer is still weeks away, and it’s already very hot in Taylor Korolenchuk’s Hamilton apartment.

The 24-year-old lives with his father in an older, seven-storey building in Stoney Creek without air conditioning.

Korolenchuk says he has nerve issues that are made worse by hot weather, but the two of them struggle to pay the heftier utility bills that come with running air conditioners.

“My dad would purposely not put the [air conditioners] on so he can save on hydro but in these heat waves, you end up sweltering,” he told CBC Hamilton on Wednesday, the second of two days hovering around 27 C. With the humidity, the days felt above 30 C.

Korolenchuk’s room is above the building’s laundry room, making it even warmer. “Even when it’s 20 [degrees Celsius] out, my room gets to 29.”

He’s eager to see the city’s maximum temperature bylaw move forward, after council approved it in concept last year. It would require landlords to ensure units don’t exceed a specified temperature.

A draft of what the new law could look like is expected before council later in June.

“It’s kind of a necessity now with the temperature rising quickly,” said Korolenchuk, noting he’d like their home to be a place of refuge for his dad, who works in a hot metal foundry, instead of more of the same on days like Hamilton has experienced this week.

“Normally the heat waves don’t start until later.”

Council defers decision over expanding AC grant

While councillors wait to see city staff’s draft of the new bylaw, they have deferred a proposal that would have helped low-income residents buy air conditioners to help them get through this summer in the meantime.

At a council meeting May 8, Mayor Andrea Horwath led a majority of councillors in deferring an amendment from Ward 2 Coun. Cameron Kroetsch that would have expanded access to a $350 air-conditioning grant from 50 households to 200.

Currently, people on social assistance with certain medical conditions are eligible for the $350 subsidy through Ontario Works. Kroetsch had proposed to make something similar available to all low-income households with a resident dealing with a severe medical condition that makes them vulnerable to heat.

It would have cost $52,000, from the city’s climate-change reserve, according to a coalition of local social and environmental agencies – including Hamilton ACORN, the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and Environment Hamilton – that pushed for the measure.

“We urge our council to swiftly approve funding air conditioners for 200 vulnerable low-income tenants, which includes people living with palliative conditions, and to prioritize collaboration among healthcare, government, and landlords to ensure homes remain cool during extreme heat waves,” said Clare Freeman, executive director of the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, in a release.

“Denying the reality of climate change is irresponsible; it’s time for decisive action to protect our community.”

Horwath said she is open to paying for air conditioners but wants to see more details about how the plan would work before approving it.

“I have a lot of time for this idea,” she said. “We need to do our homework [to] understand how something like this is actually going to be successfully implemented.”

The deferral was also supported by councillors Jeff Beattie, Mark Tadeson, Brad Clark, John Paul Danko, Maureen Wilson, Craig Cassar, Matt Francis, Tom Jackson, Esther Pauls, Mike Spadafora and Ted McMeekin.

Councillors Nrinder Nann, Tammy Hwang and Alex Wilson joined Kroetsch in voting against deferring.

Kroetsch also proposed an initiative to make transit more accessible to people without air conditioning by providing special bus tickets to residents to be used during heat alerts, which passed.

“Our coalition praises new actions for 2024, including tracking heat-related deaths and illness and 2,000 free HSR trips during heat alerts, but are disappointed with the delay in expansion of the free air conditioner program,” said the local coalition’s press release.

“We are hopeful the extra time will allow collaboration between councillors and city staff to find the best path forward for a successful expansion of the free AC program for this summer, but it must be recognized that by delaying this action it could very well not be in place for our first extreme heat event.”

‘At the higher and higher floors, they boil’

Korolenchuk has lived in low-income housing for all of his life he said and is a member of Hamilton ACORN, which advocates for low to medium income people. He recently moved back to Hamilton and in with his dad after a stint in Peterborough, Ont.

He says that at the prices he can afford, access to air conditioning is essentially unheard of, so it’s not like he can just move.

“There’s barely any affordable units that have any AC,” he said, noting many workplaces and schools are also becoming inhospitable hot as climate change progresses. “Apartment buildings tend to get hot… At the higher and higher floors, they boil.

“But it’s kind of a societal issue in general. The priority would be better access [to cooling] in homes, but it’s an issue that goes beyond residential space.”

Article by Saira Peesker for CBC News