Senators’ Bill—Introduced After Tragic 2019 Cedar High Apartments Fire— Encourages Public Housing Authorities to Install Sprinkler Systems in Older Buildings

WASHINGTON, D.C. [7/15/2020]—This week, legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to encourage public housing authorities to install sprinkler systems in older apartment buildings cleared the House Appropriations Committee as part of a larger House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies funding package. 

The Public Housing Fire Safety Act would create an annual $25 million competitive grant program to provide funds to public housing authorities who wish to retrofit older high-rise apartment buildings with sprinkler systems. It would also collect data on the status of sprinkler installations in public housing high-rises around the country.

“The fire at Cedar High Apartments was a tragic loss for the Cedar-Riverside community. We need to look into measures to prevent such tragedies from happening again,” said Sen. Smith. “After listening to Minnesotans, advocates and community members, I got to work on this bill, which will help public housing authorities install sprinkler systems. I’m glad that the bill was included in the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies appropriations bill and passed out of committee today. I'll keep working to move this bill forward."

 “We need safeguards in place, including properly installed fire systems, to ensure stable housing is available for all families in Minnesota,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “This is an important step forward in getting this legislation passed to help public housing authorities ensure our buildings are safe for all residents.”      

Sen. Smith and Klobuchar introduced the Public Housing Fire Safety Act following the tragic 2019 Cedar High Apartments Fire in Minneapolis. 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.

And while the Federal Fire Safety Act of 1992 required the installation of sprinklers in all new government-owned high-rise buildings, there are thousands of public housing apartment buildings around the country built before that date. Cedar High Apartments is one of them. 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.

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.

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