Kamala Harris Introduces Bill to Provide Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Public Housing

California Senator Kamala Harris recently introduced the Safe Housing for Families Act, which seeks to provide carbon monoxide detectors in housing units run by the Department of Housing and Development (HUD). The initiative comes after reports of 11 deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning in federally run residences since 2003.

“Housing is a human right. The federal government has an obligation to ensure that residents of public housing can raise their families in a safe and healthy environment,” Harris said in a statement. “These are preventable tragedies. We must act now to get carbon monoxide detectors in HUD housing to protect the health and wellbeing of the millions who reside there.”

Representatives Chuy García (D-Ill.) and Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) also introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives on Monday, the press release indicated. “No one living in America, especially those in federal, public housing, should have to worry if they will die from carbon monoxide poisoning in their own homes,” said García. “Every parent deserves the peace of mind of knowing their children are safe when they tuck them in at night. This bill helps deliver that peace of mind among our most vulnerable by ensuring federally-assisted housing have carbon monoxide detectors,” Cunningham added.

The bill was introduced after two people died of carbon dioxide exposure in a Columbia, South Carolina public housing complex on January 17. An NBC News report found that high levels of natural gas and carbon monoxide were found in the Allen Benedict Court public complex, which houses more than 400 people — most of whom are African American — including 140 children and elders with health conditions. The facilities also had broken smoke alarms, rodent droppings, and damaged ceilings, among other safety hazards. None of the apartments had carbon monoxide detectors, according to authorities, despite the presence of the deadly gas. HUD-run rental housing must have smoke detectors, but the federal government does not have the same regulations for carbon monoxide ones, according to NBC News.

According to HUD’s website, more than 500 people in the US die of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, and it greatly affects children and people with lung diseases or anemia. Though the website explains in greater detail the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, public health advocates told NBC News the agency has done little to strengthen federal carbon monoxide protections.

As soon as Ben Carson assumed the leadership of HUD, he vowed to change the living conditions of many residents who have grappled with “rats, roaches, bed bugs, mold, lead, and violence.” Under the current administration, however, complaints about deteriorating conditions have continued to increase.

Another investigation by NBC News in November 2018 found that 1,000 out of HUD’s nearly 28,000 federally subsidized multifamily properties failed their inspections —30 percent higher than in 2016, according to records provided by HUD. The agency pledged to improve its standards.

“The secretary believes very deeply that families should not be forced to live in housing that’s unsafe or unhealthy and taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing it,” HUD spokesperson Brian Sullivan told NBC News last year.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and U.S. politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.