Julio Banegas, 86, spent the Miami summer relying on the breeze to stay cool in a second-floor apartment because his landlord, the federal government, rented the unit without air-conditioning.
“It got tremendously hot,” Banegas said in Spanish on Monday. “I used lots of fans.”
More than 1,000 apartments and houses lack air-conditioning in Miami-Dade County’s public-housing system, the legacy of a federal policy that doesn’t require cooling systems even in the Sun Belt. In recent weeks, Miami-Dade’s government began spending $2.3 million to install air conditioners in about 1,700 federal public housing units that are managed by the county.
“It should be a right, not an amenity,” Morris Copeland, the county administrator overseeing housing, said during a press conference Monday announcing the initiative.
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava described the effort as a plan to bridge the gap between the aging set of public housing complexes without air-conditioning to the new generation of projects where Miami-Dade has been requiring developers install air conditioners since 2001.
“It is the right thing, and the humane thing, for us to do,” Levine Cava said, on the same day Miami International Airport recorded a high of 88 degrees, a record for this time in late November. “Here we are nearly in December, and we’re still experiencing heat.”
Levine Cava has made mitigating high temperatures a priority in her administration’s climate-change plan. That includes opening public cooling centers during extreme heat waves, and hiring a full-time administrator to focus on helping people avoid high temperatures, Chief Heat Officer Jane Gilbert.
Residents of public housing can already purchase their own air-conditioning units, and some do. In 2018, Miami’s government provided 51 A/C units for some county-run housing units within city limits.
Banegas, who lives with his wife in the Gwen Cherry complex in the 2800 block of Northwest 10th Avenue, lives in one of the first units with the new air onditioners.
Michael Liu, the county’s housing director, said he expects all of the county’s new air conditioners to be installed within 90 days. He said that would leave about 100 units lacking air-conditioning out of the more than 8,000 public-housing units Miami-Dade manages for the federal government.
Those 100 units are in complexes being redeveloped, and Liu said Miami-Dade can help residents in those homes get temporary air-conditioning units before the new buildings are finished.
When Banegas welcomed Levine Cava and reporters into his apartment, he had his new air-conditioning unit set at 70 degrees. He said it’s been a welcome addition during Miami’s unseasonably warm winter.
“Every time it’s hot outside I sit in that sofa in front of the air conditioner to breathe cool air,” he said. “I feel so happy”
Miami Herald staff photographer Jose A. Iglesias contributed to this report.