Family of woman who died in Rogers Park's James Sneider Apartments during heat wave sues

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The family of Janice Reed, who died inside a Roger's Park apartment building during an early spring heat wave, are now suing its owners and management company for keeping the heat on despite blazing temperatures.

Reed, 58, was one of three people who died in a Roger's Park apartment building in unseasonable sweltering temperatures earlier in May.

"Janice asked for help. She went downstairs, and she asked for help like I did," said Lorna Barnes, resident.

In a newly filed lawsuit, Reed's family said the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation continued to operate the heating system, despite nearly 90-degree temperatures.

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"Over and over again seniors are needlessly dying in the heat. There has got to be a better way to manage a housing system that is responsible for so many lives," read a statement from the son of Gwendolyn Osborne, who also died in the building during the heat wave.

Residents are now wondering if warm temperatures forecast for Memorial Day weekend will make the senior apartment building intolerably hot again.

"The problem would have been if they had turned off the heat system they can't turn it on the next day. It doesn't work that way," said 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins. "So that's the reason they were reluctant to turn it off, was because the ordinance required them to keep it on on-mode all the way until June 1."
At Monday's city council meeting, Hopkins introduced a change to that ordinance that would exempt buildings from the heat requirement in May and early fall "if the average outside temperature for the succeeding five days will be 75 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, or the heat index for one or more days in the succeeding five days will reach or exceed 75 degrees."

READ MORE: Vigil held for 3 women found dead in Rogers Park apartment building amid hot Chicago weather

"Let each individual building decide when they wean to disable the heat system, and if they have a central air conditioning system. If they do they can activate it at that time," Hopkins proposed.

Osborne's family are expected to speak Tuesday with a team of lawyers about another potential lawsuit.

ABC7 reached out to the building's owners for comment, but did not hear back before this story went to air. Later Monday night, the company sent the following statement:

Hispanic Housing Development Corporation is a leading, not-for-profit advocate for those who need affordable housing in Chicago and the Midwest. For 46 years, HHDC has focused on building and maintaining quality affordable housing for working-class families and vulnerable individuals - senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans and women with children. We have built 4,200 homes and preserved 1,700 affordable units. We currently manage 10,200 units. Our goal is to help provide economic stability and housing security to people who need it most.

We are deeply saddened by the deaths of three women who made our James Sneider Apartments their home. We mourn the loss of Janice Reed, Gwendolyn Osborne and Delores McNeely and send our deepest sympathies to their families and friends.

Hispanic Housing Development Corporation has long been devoted to providing affordable homes and services that allow seniors to remain independent. The safety and security of all our residents have always been our highest priority. We are working with the City of Chicago and conducting our own investigation into last week's circumstances.
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