Senators’ Bill Would Encourage Public Housing Authorities to Install Sprinkler Systems in Older Buildings to Improve Safety of Residents and Local Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/18/2019]—Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation—the Public Housing Fire Safety Act—that would create a program to provide support to public housing authorities who wish to retrofit older high-rise apartment buildings with sprinkler systems.

The Federal Fire Safety Act of 1992 required the installation of sprinklers in all new government-owned high rise buildings. However, there are thousands of public housing apartment buildings around the country built before that date. According to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for example, nearly all of the high-rise public housing buildings in Minneapolis, Minnesota were built before the mandatory sprinkler system laws look effect. One of these properties, Cedar High Apartments, suffered a tragic and fatal fire last month. The upper floors of the building, where the fire erupted, did not have sprinkler systems installed. Public housing authorities that wish to retrofit older buildings like Cedar High Apartments with sprinkler systems must use their already limited capital funds to do so. While many public housing authorities have recognized the importance of these upgrades, the federal government must take a larger role in supporting fire safety improvements.

“The fire at Cedar High Apartments was a tragic loss for the Cedar-Riverside community. Since the day Minnesotans woke up to the news of this terrible fire, I stared to connect with people closest to the fire and look into measures to keep such tragedies from happening,” said Sen. Smith. “After taking the time to listen to Minnesotans, advocates and community members, this bill gets right to the root of what we need to do: incentivize public housing authorities that want to be able to install sprinkler systems.”  

“With the proper safeguards in place, tragic events like the recent Cedar-Riverside fire in Minneapolis could be prevented,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “The Public Housing Fire Safety Act would require HUD to set aside money for sprinkler systems and help ensure that buildings have properly installed fire systems. We mourn those we lost, and we are thankful for the swift and heroic action by firefighters and first responders who saved lives. I am dedicated to ensuring that safe and stable housing is available for families in Minnesota.”

“The tragedy in Minneapolis is another reminder of the need to invest in public housing and prioritize the health and safety of HUD-assisted households,” said Sunia Zaterman, Executive Director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities. “We appreciate Senators Smith and Klobuchar’s responsiveness and their legislation to fund a new grant program that provides additional resources to public housing authorities working to implement fire safety upgrades.”

“Fire sprinkler systems save lives and reduce risk to fire fighters,” stated Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “That’s why the IAFF supports legislation establishing a grant program to fund the installation of fire sprinklers in public housing. I commend the work on this important issue, and the continued commitment to protecting the safety of the public and fire fighters.”

“I am thankful for the proactive leadership of Senators Smith and Klobuchar for introducing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act. As the President of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, and as former Fire Chief and State Fire Marshal, I know there is no reason we should have residents in public housing dying in fires like we just saw tragically in Minnesota. There is no reason that our nation’s fire responders need to risk their lives responding to multi-family housing units that, if built today, would almost certainly be required to have fire sprinklers. There is a simple solution—we need to retrofit these public housing units with fire sprinklers. Senators Smith and Klobuchar’s bill will create a grant program to help public housing agencies install fire sprinklers. This is a straightforward idea that we need to act on immediately,” said Shane Ray, President of National Fire Sprinkler Association.

“On behalf of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, I applaud Senators Smith and Klobuchar for introducing this important legislation to help protect the lives and safety of public housing residents from the dangers of fire and smoke inhalation,” stated Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Residents of public housing, including America’s lowest income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and other individuals, deserve to live in safe homes, and it is far past time for Congress to enact this common sense bill to help save lives.”

“Fire sprinklers are one of the most effective ways to minimize both lives lost and property damage in the event of a fire. We are pleased to support the Public Housing Fire Safety Act, which would help increase the use of fire sprinkler systems in public housing. This bill will help ensure the safety of our civilians and first responders alike,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.

The Public Housing Fire Safety Act would:

  • Create a competitive grant program in the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide funds to public housing authorities who wish to retrofit older high-rise apartment buildings with sprinkler systems; and
  • Collect data on the status of sprinkler installations in public housing high-rises around the country.

This legislation is supported by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the National Fire Sprinkler Association, the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA), the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO), Minnesota NAHRO, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, the National Housing Law Project and the Congressional Fire Services Institute.