San Antonio State Rep. Says Public Housing Should Have Air Conditioning

Democrat Diego Bernal says those currently living in public housing without air conditioning are “the most vulnerable among us.”

By Kristen CabreraApril 22, 2019 11:54 am,

As the 2019 legislative session continues, Texas Standard is talking with members about some of the bills they’ve filed, and what they hope their legislation will accomplish.

State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, filed House Bill 266, a bill that would require air conditioning in public housing.  

On why the bill is needed:

“All public housing doesn’t have air conditioning. I never thought in a million years that we would have government-subsidized, government-run housing in Texas, especially South Texas, that did not come with the benefit of air conditioning. I could understand that some of these housing projects are so old that they could have been built without modern accommodations like an elevator or central air. What I couldn’t understand is that if we were gonna place people into these units … let’s remember who these people are: they’re the most vulnerable among us – they’re disabled, they’re veterans, they’re single parents with small children. This has everything to do with safety.”

On a local priest who’s trying to help people who don’t have air conditioning:

“We talked to a Catholic priest who operates a church that is across the street from one of these housing projects, and he tells us there’s always an EMS vehicle outside of the complex on very, very hot days. He keeps the sanctuary open in his church during the day because people would walk out of the complex across the street just to sit in the sanctuary because it’s air-conditioned. He tells stories about some of the residents who are Jewish, for example, saying, ‘Is it okay if I come in, even if I’m not Christian?’ And he says, ‘Of course, of course.’ That’s what people are doing.”

On how groups are responding to the bill:

“It’s a pretty strongly worded bill, and it’s essentially a mandate. The housing authorities aren’t real happy about it because they’re saying, ‘You’re asking us to do something and not giving us a real funding mechanism to do it.’ And I’m saying, ‘Well, you’re damn right because you should have been doing it all along, in the first place.’ I’m not asking for anything that’s somewhat out of the ordinary or new or cutting edge; I’m asking for something that should have been done a long time ago.”

On his prediction for the bill’s future:

“This bill doesn’t have the best shot in the world. But it does start a conversation. I think we can adjust the bill to accomplish something that incentivizes and almost forces them to start to make changes to their public housing. I just don’t know if we’re gonna get there. And honestly, if this bill doesn’t pass, then that remains the status quo – that we have hundreds of thousands of units throughout Texas that came without AC and aren’t going to get AC. And there’s nothing we can do to force them to get AC except continuing, at a minimum, to keep talking about it, shining a light on it, shaming them into compliance, and hopefully spurring some of the other governmental agencies like cities and counties, and philanthropists, to help fill the gap.”


Written by Brooke Reaves.