The House passed a bill Tuesday requiring carbon monoxide detectors in public housing, after more than a dozen tenants died from the gas in the last 16 years.
“It will prevent tragic and completely needless deaths,” said Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill., the lead sponsor of the bill, which provides about $300 million over three years to install carbon monoxide detectors in federally subsidized housing for poor families.
A similar proposal has been introduced in the Senate.
The bill follows an NBC News investigation that exposed the lack of protections for millions of low-income families living in federally subsidized housing. Since 2003, at least 13 public housing residents have died from carbon monoxide poisoning, with four deaths this year alone, NBC News found. The gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless, so public health experts strongly recommend installing detectors to protect residents.
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The Department of Housing and Urban Development, however, does not require detectors in federally subsidized properties that it supervises for more than 4.6 million poor families, despite its mandate to ensure that all public housing is “decent, safe and sanitary.”
“It is unconscionable that the very people our government seeks to provide shelter for are dying in their homes,” García said Tuesday on the House floor.
Following NBC News’ reporting, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced that the agency would propose a new rule to require CO detectors. But the rule-making process is time-consuming, and the department said it would be able to act more quickly if Congress passed a law requiring detectors.
The House bill has attracted support from industry groups that initially raised concerns about the cost of installing new detectors. The proposal takes a “thoughtful and evenhanded approach” to tackle preventable deaths, said Tess Hembree, director of congressional relations for the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, which represents public housing officials.
Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., have introduced a similar proposal in the Senate to require detectors. That has yet to advance, though aides said they were hopeful it would move forward soon.
HUD has also been supportive of the legislative effort in Congress. “As the secretary has said many times, any death is one too many,” a HUD spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ve got to get this done.”