Toronto Star: Air conditioners can be a ‘medicinal tool’ but most living in Toronto’s older apartments lack it

Posted June 1, 2017

For Kemba Robinson, an air conditioner is not a luxury but a lifesaver.
 
Robinson has asthma, as do her son and daughter, and having AC in their Jane and Finch apartment means fewer attacks and a better night’s sleep for everyone during sweltering summers.
 
“The heat along with the smog, it makes the air quality unbreathable,” said Robinson, a member of tenant advocacy group ACORN. “The AC doesn’t have to be too high; it’s just to bring the temperature down to a manageable state.”
 
About 500,000 people in Toronto live in older apartment buildings, and most lack central air, according to a recent Toronto Public Health report.
 
Meanwhile, in Hamilton, council voted this week to study providing air conditioners to low-income people with health conditions exacerbated by extreme heat.
 
“It’s a medicinal tool,” said Hamilton councillor Sam Merulla, likening it to a prescription as people would have to get a doctor’s note to receive one.
 
He hopes the plan could also save on money the city spends to move vulnerable people to cooler spots during heat alerts.
 
“It can be a life-and-death situation for some,” he said.
 
Toronto Public Health recently declined to recommend a bylaw that would have forced landlords to prevent extreme heat, like there is for cold.
 
About 60 per cent of people in older apartments reported losing sleep or feeling thirsty during summer heat waves, according to the agency.
 
Carol Mee, manager of healthy public policy at Toronto Public Health, wrote in an email Thursday that the agency’s approach focuses on access to cool spaces in the community and retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient.
 
She added that recent consultation found older apartments lack proper insulation and duct work for window AC units to work effectively as a widespread solution.
 
Hamilton’s approach is borrowed from New York state. Last summer, 4,000 people there benefited from free air conditioners. The office of Temporary and Disability Assistance budgets about $3 million a year for the program, said spokesperson Anthony Farmer.
 
“We’ve found some success here since we started doing it in New York,” Farmer said. “There is a need, and we’re helping to meet that need.”
 
***
Article by May Warren for the Toronto Star