City is mulling free air-conditioners for vulnerable residents
The city will study the idea of giving free air conditioners to low-income residents with health problems linked to smog and extreme heat.
Council approved a motion from Coun. Sam Merulla Wednesday to direct public health officials to look at the feasibility and cost of giving air conditioning units to low-income residents who are particularly vulnerable to heat and associated air pollution.
The program is aimed at those with specific medical conditions, stressed the Ward 4 councillor.
“It wouldn’t be about giving air conditioners to everyone who is poor,” said Merulla, who also suggested the city could use hydro merger dividends to pay for the program rather than tax dollars.
“This would be specifically targeted at those residents who already need help, for a variety of reasons, during an extreme heat event.”
Merulla noted New York state runs a similar program with eligibility criteria linked to income, age and environmental health problems or medical conditions.
That program provided around 4,000 air conditioners in 2015 with roughly $3 million budgeted statewide. Each successful applicant is eligible for up to $800 for the purchase and installation of a unit.
While smog days have been on the decline for several years, Hamilton’s medical officer of health declared nine heat-alert days last year.
Merulla argued the city and partner agencies in the community already take special care to check on vulnerable residents and the homeless during extremely hot days.
Sometimes, those residents are forced to leave their homes to seek respite in municipal cooling centres. Those who aren’t so lucky can end up in hospital.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger praised the idea and suggested it could save taxpayers money by keeping heat-stressed residents out of the emergency room.
Coun. Terry Whitehead suggested the study also look at the potential for a “companion program” to help cover the costs of paying to run the air conditioners, noting the high cost of hydro is already hurting residents.
“There’s no point giving someone an air conditioner if they don’t have the money to pay the bill,” he said.
Merulla said staff can report back on the financial options available through such a program, but noted the city already offers utility help programs for residents in need.
It (isn’t) about giving air conditioners to everyone who is poor. COUN. SAM MERULLA
Coun. Sam Merulla wants officials to consider giving air-conditioning units to vulnerable residents.