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Families Suing Building Management After 3 Women Die In Senior Building During Heat Wave

CHICAGO, ILL – Two families are filing lawsuits against the owner and management company of a senior building after three women were found dead there during days of high temperatures.

The families of Gwendolyn E. Osborne, 72, Janice Reed, 68, and Delores McNeely, 76, have filed lawsuits after the women were found dead in the James Sneider Apartments during a sweltering heat wave earlier this month.

Residents of the 55-and-up senior living building had been complaining about the high temperatures in their units for days, however building management did not turn off the heat and turn on air conditioning, officials said. According to attorneys, some of the units had reached temperatures as hot as 103 degrees. 

The lawsuit states that the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation and Gateway Apartments continued to operate the heating system, despite nearly 90-degree temperatures.

Building operators said they continued to run the heating system because they were complying with ordinances that require heat be turned on in buildings until June 1.

“The problem would have been if they had turned off the heat system they can’t turn it on the next day. It doesn’t work that way,” said 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins. “So that’s the reason they were reluctant to turn it off, was because the ordinance required them to keep it on on-mode all the way until June 1.”

The 49th Ward Alderman Maria Hadden said the ordinance had been misread and misunderstood.

“To be clear, our ordinance does not require that heat is on in a building through June 1,” she said. “It does require that a minimum temperature is set at 66 at night and 60 in the day from about mid-September through June 1.”

“They believe they had to keep the heat on because the city ordinance requires it? It is absurd and if that is true this is it negligence this is willful intentional conduct,” said Steve Levin, attorney for Osborne’s family.

Hopkins introduced a change to the ordinance at Monday’s city council meeting. The  change exempt buildings from the heat requirement in May and early fall “if the average outside temperature for the succeeding five days will be 75 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, or the heat index for one or more days in the succeeding five days will reach or exceed 75 degrees.”

“Let each individual building decide when they wean to disable the heat system, and if they have a central air conditioning system. If they do they can activate it at that time,” Hopkins proposed.

The building’s owners released the following statement regarded the women’s deaths:

“Hispanic Housing Development Corporation is a leading, not-for-profit advocate for those who need affordable housing in Chicago and the Midwest. For 46 years, HHDC has focused on building and maintaining quality affordable housing for working-class families and vulnerable individuals – senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans and women with children. We have built 4,200 homes and preserved 1,700 affordable units. We currently manage 10,200 units. Our goal is to help provide economic stability and housing security to people who need it most.

“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of three women who made our James Sneider Apartments their home. We mourn the loss of Janice Reed, Gwendolyn Osborne and Delores McNeely and send our deepest sympathies to their families and friends.

“Hispanic Housing Development Corporation has long been devoted to providing affordable homes and services that allow seniors to remain independent. The safety and security of all our residents have always been our highest priority. We are working with the City of Chicago and conducting our own investigation into last week’s circumstances.”

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