Neighbor creates petition calling for air conditioners at McDonald House

  • Elizabeth Brown, who created the petition. Submitted Photo/Elizabeth Brown

  • Warren Douglass, a McDonald House tenant, stands in his bedroom next to the window air conditioner he is no longer allowed to use. Submitted Photo

Monday, July 09, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — An online petition demanding that McDonald House residents once again enjoy the right to have window air conditioners, and for the Northampton Housing Authority to resume installing them, is rapidly collecting hundreds of signatures.

Posted on the website Change.org by Elizabeth Brown on Thursday, the petition had collected more than 100 signatures within the first five hours. By Thursday night, it had exceeded 200 signatures, and by late Friday afternoon, the signature count was closing in on 500, less than 24 hours after it was posted.

“It was just the right thing to do,” said Brown, 31, who works as shift supervisor and environmental ambassador at Cornucopia Foods in downtown Northampton.

On May 2, the housing authority sent out a notice saying that it would no longer be installing or removing air conditioners. Furthermore, the notice said that window air conditioners would no longer be allowed at McDonald House.

In a subsequent letter, it was clarified that this was done for safety purposes due to the height of McDonald House, which is six stories tall.

The housing authority later took action to subsidize the purchase of portable air conditioners for residents, offering a $100 rent credit for those who buy them. It has also made portable air conditioners available for purchase from the authority itself for $200, which can be paid all at once or on a payment plan.

The petition points to the significant percentage of disabled and/or elderly people who live in McDonald House. It also says that the safety concern with window air conditioners is an unproven one, and points to the heatwave that has been hitting western Massachusetts.

At this time, no report has been discovered of a person in Northampton being injured by a falling air conditioner.

The petition also asserts that the portable air conditioners have not worked as well for residents as their window units, and that the cost of these units is not reasonable for McDonald House’s low-income residents.

Resident Ron Hebert said his new portable air conditioner is not working particularly well, noting that the lowest he could he get his apartment this week was 78 degrees Fahrenheit, with the air conditioner set at 65 Fahrenheit degrees.

“And I got an expensive one,” Herbert said.

With his window unit, “My bedroom (temperature) would be whatever I set it at,” he said.

Although it is not addressed in the partition, it also appears that the air conditioning in the McDonald house’s community room is not sufficient to cool the space.

“I think that they need a new one,” said McDonald House resident Jude Sidney.

She said that the housing authority has also provided a portable air conditioner for the space. However, on July 4, when the McDonald House held a barbecue there, the portable unit was not working, and the residents eventually fixed it themselves. Even then, Sidney said that it only cooled a small radius around it.

The event involved cooking indoors, and Sidney said that it was unbearably hot, although she noted that she hasn’t been down in the community center since.

The housing authority has designated the community room as a cooling center.

Hebert also criticized the community room’s current status.

“The cooling center ain’t really a cooling center,” said Hebert.

He said that he went down to it this morning and one thermometer was 78 degrees and the other was also close to 80, with the air conditioner set to 60 degrees.

Sidney also said that residents with the portable air conditioners have informed her that the portable air conditioners only cool one room at a time.

Additionally, Sidney said the housing authority recently distributed care packages with water bottles, Popsicles and juice to McDonald House residents, along with tips to recognize heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Sidney’s statements on the portable air conditioners and the air conditioning situation in the community room match those of another McDonald House resident who wishes to remain anonymous.

Brown’s petition concludes with the demand that window air conditioners be allowed at McDonald House, and that the housing authority install them as they previously did.

“We urge Housing Authority to rescind this new rule immediately and reinstall residents’ window units for their health and safety,” the petition says.

Brown initially heard about the air conditioning change from Sacred Elder, a monk who lives at McDonald House and collects food for residents there. She then did her own research.

Originally from Tennessee, she said that she grew up in an area where people take care of each other, something she also said her Pagan faith compels her to do.

Brown said that her mother is disabled and lives in Florida, and that she couldn’t bear to think what it would be like for her not to have air conditioning.

“When we put our mind to something … it’s going to happen,” said Brown, of southern women.

McDonald House has six apartments specifically for disabled people, all of whom are equipped with sleeves for air conditioners and thus are unaffected by the ban. A number of residents have also put window air conditioners in themselves and have not been asked to remove them.

Sidney is in a handicapped apartment with an air conditioner in a sleeve. However, she noted that she still cares about the window air conditioning ban and its affect on her neighbors.

“It’s a tiny little community,” she said. “It’s just human to care about people.”

As for the public reaction to the petition, Brown said that she has heard from a number of people, all of whom have expressed their opposition to the situation at McDonald House.

“Everyone is shocked,” Brown said. “This is not OK.”

Brown also said that she’s felt demoralized by the national political climate, and that working on local issues is a way that people can feel better.

“This is the right thing that I need to do,” she said.

Brown said that she and other members of the queer community will be petitioning for more signatures over the weekend. She also said that she and others are interested in attending the next meeting of the Northampton Housing Authority’s board of commissioners.

Sidney also said she was pleased with Brown’s petition, a sentiment that was also shared by Hebert.

“I think that’s fantastic,” Sidney said.

“That’s a great thing,” said Hebert.

Northampton Housing Authority did not return a request for comment on the petition by publication.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.