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Elderly residents at a Kansas City apartment have gone without A/C in the middle of a heat wave

Three people sit on a staircase in the shade.
Celisa Calacal
/
KCUR 89.3
From left, Al Porter, Karen Robinson and Ginger Miller find some relief from the heat on a shady staircase next to the Westport House Apartments. They lost air conditioning over the weekend.

Tenants at Westport House Apartments lost air conditioning over the weekend. In response, Kansas City officials sent a cooling bus and medical personnel to the apartment building.

In the middle of another sweltering, 90-degree day in Kansas City, one of the only places Al Porter can find relief is the shaded steps outside his apartment building.

Porter, along with the other residents of Westport House Apartments in Midtown, has been without air conditioning for four days.

“My apartment was 98.9 degrees Fahrenheit — hot,” Porter says. “No air, I mean hot.”

Twelve floors of elderly tenants at Westport House lost air conditioning in the midst of an intense heat wave that’s expected to drive up temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast this week. Residents, some of whom live in units subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, say they noticed the air conditioning stopped working around Thursday last week. In a note to residents, property owner Dalmark Management Group said a part of the chiller went out last Friday, causing it to stop working.

“I haven’t been able to sleep,” said Kim Shirley, who moved into the building six weeks ago. “I haven’t been able to eat. It’s just been miserable.”

On Monday afternoon, city spokesperson Sherae Honeycutt said the AC is restored to 50% capacity. The city health department will continue to monitor the situation. Dalmark told residents that the part needed to fix the chiller and restore it to full capacity will arrive Tuesday. Dalmark provided box fans and water to residents on Monday.

Honeycutt said the city learned about the conditions at Westport House late Sunday night. Th

City officials sent buses from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to park outside the building and serve as a cooling center. Platt said the buses will stay on site until the issue is resolved. He said the city’s Healthy Homes team, which oversees conditions in rental housing and tenant complaints, is communicating with Dalmark Management Group. Healthy Homes also conducted door-to-door checks with property management and the Kansas City Fire Department, Honeycutt said.

A bus stands idle outside an apartment building, in a parking lot.
Celisa Calacal
/
KCUR 89.3
A Kansas City Area Transportation Authority bus acts as a cooling center parked outside the Westport House Apartments on June 17, to provide relief to residents.

Paramedics and EMS from the Kansas City Fire Department were on standby.

A HUD regional spokesperson said in a statement that the department is working closely with the property owner to restore air conditioning in a timely manner.

A sign from the health department posted on the front door of Westport House on Monday said the building failed to comply with a city law that requires property owners to obtain a rental permit. Dalmark Management Group did not respond to a request for comment.

The National Weather Service’s Prediction Center said parts of the Midwest can expect record-breaking heatin the coming days, with temperatures in Kansas City remaining above 90 degrees all week.

Most of the tenants at Westport House are older, live on fixed incomes and have preexisting health conditions that put them at higher risk to develop health problems from the high heat.

Studies show that it can be difficult for even healthy older adults to tell whether they’re too hot or just dehydrated. Chronic health conditions and certain medications can also make senior citizens more prone to heat intolerance than younger adults.

John Spengler, the Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation at the Harvard Chan School, told Harvard Magazine that temperatures just have to rise above an area’s normal range to be considered dangerous to older adults.

“We’re seeing problems with hydration, sleep and cognitive decline at 85 degrees or lower,” Spengler said. “It makes us rethink what real heat stress is about.”

Ginger Miller, 65, has lived at Westport House for three years. She said she likes living there, and knows most of the people in the building, but the lack of air conditioning has been a disaster.

At noon on Monday, Miller, who’s diabetic, found some relief inside the cooling bus.

“I come out here every night since we ain't have no air,” Miller said. “I'll stay outside the majority of the time, and when I go upstairs I run me some cold water and get in the bathtub.”

A woman sits inside a bus.
Celisa Calacal
/
KCUR 89.3
Ginger Miller finds some relief sitting inside the city's cooling bus. She's lived at Westport House for three years.

Westport House has received eight Healthy Homes complaints since the start of last year, citing issues like bed bugs and a lack of hot water.

Conditions at Westport House Apartments reached KC Tenants, the citywide tenant union, over the weekend. Members then met with and began organizing residents to demand that Dalmark fix the air conditioning. KC Tenants also brought the issue to city officials.

KC Tenants leader Brandon Henderson said two residents fainted Monday morning because of complications from the extreme heat. Another resident with high blood pressure also experienced a medical emergency on Monday morning.

“Folks aren't able to sleep, some folks are sleeping outside, because it's frankly cooler and safer outside than in their room,” he said. “A lot of folks are worried for their lives and their neighbors’ lives.”

Robert Nieto, who is 77 years old, has lived at Westport House for the past eight years. He said the building has had issues with the air conditioning not working over the last three.

His apartment was 89 degrees on Sunday, Nieto said. He’s tried cooling down by sitting between two open windows and catching the breeze — if there is any.

“I can't do anything in the apartment,” Nieto said. “You can't turn on the television because it produces heat. You have to turn off everything … so you just sit there twiddling your thumbs.”

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
Emma Flannery is the summer 2024 news intern at KCUR. Email her at eflannery@kcur.org.
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