and Peter Dreier
At a community forum this past Saturday with L.A.’s new Planning Director, Gail Goldberg, fifteen community residents that had been brought to the forum by the Korean Resource Center wanted to talk about the desperate need for air conditioning, especially for seniors and anyone else vulnerable to this god awful heat wave. They didn’t get much of a response that day, and, as it turns out, it’s hard to get a response through any of the formal channels to register complaints involving the various housing bureaucracies. This is especially true for renters who have been promised air conditioning in their leases but never had it, or when their air conditioning system breaks down and the landlord doesn’t fix it. Landlords have even denied tenants the right to install their own air conditioning if “no a/c” is part of the lease, including when the tenant pays the electricity bill!
Landlord interests have been successful in preventing any requirements to fix or install air conditioning to be incorporated into the Housing Code. Nor have the Supervisors, or the City Council, or the Mayor and the Housing Department developed approaches that can facilitate action in this area, especially with the kind of crisis we’re experiencing right now.
In 1995, Chicago experienced a heat wave that resulted in more than 450 deaths; deaths that happened in part because of the failure of policymakers to create the support mechanisms to allow the most vulnerable to withstand the heat. Eric Klinenberg, whose compelling study (“Heat Wave”) of what he called an “environmentally stimulated but socially organized catastrophe” has important lessons for what’s happening now in L.A. and other parts of the country. Let’s hope we won’t see a similar catastrophe happen here because the air conditioning is broke, or a landlord doesn’t allow a tenant to install one, or that the policies we’ve developed to get air conditioning fixed or installed turn out to be broken as well.