In public housing, many fighting heat, not cold

January 22, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

As frigid temperatures hit Maryland and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. scrambled to save energy through periodic blackouts, many windows in the city's public housing developments were open all week -- some with fans going.

Some residents blamed oppressive heat in their apartments. Others said they opened windows because they craved a breath of fresh air.

"You can turn the heat down, but I turned it up and opened the window because I like to breathe some air. We're so hot we're sweating," said Donnell Comer, a resident of Perkins Homes, near Fells Point. His first-floor window was wide open all week.

Many windows were open throughout the week at the 688-unit Perkins Homes, which has been renovated in recent years at a cost of $30,000 per apartment. Yesterday, at least five apartments also had fans blowing the frigid air inside.

Because of a record demand for power triggered by low temperatures, BG&E imposed brief, temporary blackouts throughout the area Wednesday. Although the crisis eased later in the week, BG&E still was urging customers to set their thermostats between 60 and 65 and to make other conservation moves.

But a spot check of city public housing yesterday found many open windows as the temperature reached a high of 25. In the 10-story high-rise towers of East Baltimore's Lafayette Courts, where heat cannot be regulated by tenants, many windows were wide open on all floors.

Jerome Winfred, who has lived at Perkins Homes for three years, said he has slept with his windows open this week and has used a fan to relieve the oppressive heat in his two-bedroom apartment.

"You better believe I feel foolish, but it cools it off so you can really breathe," said Mr. Winfred, a janitor at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "Last year I could regulate the heat, but this year it does not work. It is hot in here."

Mr. Winfred said he has filed five work orders with the city Housing Authority seeking repairs. "They say they will do something, but they never come around," he said.

Zack Germroth, spokesman for the Housing Authority, said some housing developments are overheated because a central system must "super heat" steam to send it to developments throughout the city. That's a problem each year at Lafayette Courts, where the buildings are about 35 years old, he said.

"Unfortunately, a central system has its disadvantages," he said. "The individuals you are seeing with their windows open are at the beginning of the system. They can turn their radiators down."

Mr. Germroth said residents, whose heating costs are included in their monthly rent, must pay extra if their utility meters register higher than a predetermined level.

Robin Gorsuch, manager of Perkins Homes, said she was unaware that windows were open in many units. Residents were informed about ways to conserve energy this week during a meeting attended by 15 tenants, she said.

Elizabeth Wright, president of the citywide tenant council that monitors resident-related issues in public housing, said few heat-related complaints have been filed this week.

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