City is mulling free air-con­di­tion­ers for vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MATTHEW VAN DON­GEN mvan­don­gen@thes­pec.com 905-526-3241 | @Mat­tatthes­pec

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

HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Coun. Sam Merulla wants of­fi­cials to con­sider giv­ing air-con­di­tion­ing units to vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents.

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