The family of Janice Reed, 68, who died inside an apartment building in Roger’s Park during an early spring heat wave, are now suing the building’s owners and management company for having maintained the heat despite blazing temperatures.
Reed, 58, was one of three people who died in the Roger’s Park building in unusually sweltering temperatures on May 14.
“Janice asked for help. She came downstairs and asked for help like me,” said Lorna Barnes, another resident of the James Sneider Apartments.
In a recently filed lawsuit, Reed’s family said the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation and Gateway Apartments continued to operate the heating system, despite temperatures nearing 90 degrees.
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Reed’s son and the family’s attorney held a press conference at 9 a.m. Tuesday, officially announcing the wrongful death and negligence lawsuit.
Reed’s only child, Veldarin Jackson Sr., remembers walking in and finding her.
“He unlocked the door, and we walked in and my mom was lying on the bed, dead, and even then it was hot,” Jackson said. “She’s like my best friend, mom; mom was my dad, my mom, my best friend, I mean just everything.”
Jackson’s lawyers said the temperature inside her apartment exceeded 100 degrees when she was discovered.
“These buildings have to be held accountable; sometimes you have to use common sense. My mother-in-law died senselessly,” Adjoa Jackson said.
Ken Rye, son of Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, who also died during the heat wave, also held a press conference with his lawyer, civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump.
“His trust was betrayed because the James Sneider Apartments apparently put profit before safety,” Crump said.
Attorney Larry Rogers Jr. said residents and elected officials notified the building of the unbearable heat, but nothing was done before the deaths.
“They financially decide not to turn on the antenna because it costs more; that’s what it seems to me,” Rogers said.
Building operators said they were complying with orders requiring heating to be on in buildings until June 1.
Osborne, Reed and Delores McNeely, 76, all died at their homes in Rogers Park. Alderman for the 49th District, Maria Hadden, said the ordinance was misread and misunderstood.
“To be clear, our ordinance does not require the heating to be on in a building until June 1,” she said. “This requires a minimum temperature to be set at 66 at night and 60 during the day from mid-September to around June 1.”
“They believe they had to keep the heat on because the city ordinance requires it? That’s nonsense and if it’s true, that’s negligence, that’s intentional conduct,” said Steve Levin, attorney for the Osborne family.
Residents are now wondering if warm temperatures predicted for Memorial Day weekend will make the seniors building unbearably hot again.
“The problem would have been that if they had turned off the heating system, they couldn’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 hesitant to turn it off, is because the order required them to keep it on mode until June 1.”
At Monday’s city council meeting, Hopkins introduced a change to that ordinance that would exempt buildings from the heat requirement in May and early fall “if the average outside temperature for the following five days is 75 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, or the heat index for one or more days within the next five days will reach or exceed 75 degrees.”
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“Let each individual building decide when they want to turn off the heating system and if they have a central air conditioning system. If they do, they can turn it on at that time,” Hopkins offered.
Osborne’s family has hired top attorney Ben Crump and will hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon about another potential lawsuit.
In a statement, the owners of the building said:
“Hispanic Housing Development Corporation is a leading nonprofit advocate for those in need of affordable housing in Chicago and the Midwest. For 46 years, HHDC has focused on building and maintaining affordable housing for quality for working class families and vulnerable people – the elderly, people with disabilities, veterans and women with children We have built 4,200 homes and preserved 1,700 affordable homes We currently manage 10,200 homes Our goal is to help provide economic stability and housing security to those who need it most.
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of three women who call our James Sneider Apartments home. We mourn the loss of Janice Reed, Gwendolyn Osborne and Delores McNeely and send our deepest condolences to their families and friends.
“Hispanic Housing Development Corporation has a long history of providing affordable housing and services that enable seniors to remain independent. The safety and security of all of our residents has always been our top priority. We work with the City of Chicago and let’s conduct our own investigation into the circumstances of last week.”
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