The Heat Is On Sacramento's SRO Hotels

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
State law requires owners of single room occupancy hotels or SRO’s to provide water and heat to the units, but not air conditioning.  Scott Decker, with the non-profit SRO Collaborative Project, which provides services to SRO residents, says there’s a big obstacle to putting air conditioning in rooms:
Many hotels are very old and the wiring simply will not hold up to the current that would be required to power air conditioners. In fact, in one hotel, I remember plugging in a coffee pot in the lobby and having some lights go out….laughs…that’s all it took.
Mayor Heather Fargo says city council could come up with an ordinance requiring air conditioning in each room of the city’s 14 downtown SRO’s, but because of the wiring problem, she’s scaled back the proposal.  Fargo is now considering a plan to air condition just the lobby of each hotel, so residents would have somewhere to go when the weather gets hot:
Having one central place, that’s controlled by the manager and turned on when it needs to be turned on , and not left running when there’s nobody in there, those kinds of things, we need to work with the property owners and come up with a strategy.
There IS money in the city budget to provide air conditioning in the SRO’s.   Anne Moore, executive director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, says there’s 5 million dollars to rehabilitate the SRO’s, and the money comes with a definite requirement:
It would absolutely include air conditioning.  In fact, a condition of any of our financing would include air conditioning. 
But Moore says it would take her agency 5 to 7 years to renovate all the SRO’s.  And Fargo isn’t sure how long it would take to provide a central cooling area in each hotel.  So, for now, the residents of the SRO’s remain without air conditioning.  SOC
This is Steve Milne standing outside the Sequoia Hotel on K Street where Don Chambers’ been living for about a year now….
Come on in.
Chambers is one of the fortunate S-R-O residents who actually has air conditioning in his room – but he says it was a struggle convincing hotel management to install one. He says the original A-C unit that came with his room never even worked.
When I first moved in, you see that big one right there, when I first moved in here he checked it out and it didn’t work he says ‘I’m going to send somebody up here to fix it.’ 10 months goes by, still hasn’t been done. They said it was shot so they put that one in after 10 months of arguing with them. 
Chambers has had the new air conditioning unit for about 2-months now. It blows cool air in his tiny apartment, a room only big enough to contain a small bed, night stand, T-V and a chair. Chambers says he sympathizes with residents in neighboring S-R-Os, like The Marshall Hotel and The Golden Hotel who died in their non-air conditioned rooms during the recent heat wave.
It’s a shame, isn’t man?
Like many S-R-O residents, Chambers suffers from mental health problems. He says being on medication makes him especially vulnerable to the heat and he wonders if that’s what happened with his neighbors who died.
I’m disabled. Most likely a lot of these other people are. Can’t work – mental problems. Have to take medication. When you take psych medication, the heat is the worst thing for you. It’ll do you in.
And despite ongoing efforts by the city to have air conditioning installed in all S-R-Os, Chambers says he wouldn’t hold his breath.
When do you think that’s going to happen? I think they said it right now because things are hot, people are dying. 
Chambers says he thinks once the weather cools down the city will forget about putting air conditioners in S-R-O hotel rooms.
But Lee Foster – The Sequoia’s manager – says little by little they’re putting air conditioners into the rooms of all 90 occupants and they’re going beyond the call of duty getting the job done.
The law says evidently we don’t have to supply air conditioning we only have to supply heat but we did what was right and we’ve got some happy people here I’m happy to say.
Foster says right now 80-percent of the hotel’s rooms have air conditioning and he expects all rooms will have A-Cs by the end of the month.