U.S. Senators Tina Smith, Amy Klobuchar’s Measure to Install Fire Sprinkler Systems in Public Housing Passes the House

Senators Working to Get Bill Included in Next Senate Appropriations Package

WASHINGTON, D.C. [8/5/2020]—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 is one step closer to becoming law after recently clearing the House of Representatives as part of a larger House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies funding package. And today, Sen. Smith and Klobuchar sent a letter calling for their bill to be included in the next Senate appropriations 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.

“The fire at Cedar High Apartments was a horrific in 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 it passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s a strong marker of how important this bill is to communities not only in Minnesota but across the entire country. I’ll continue to push this bill forward in the Senate so that it can be signed into law.”

“We need safeguards in place, including properly installed fire systems, to ensure safe and stable housing is available for all families in Minnesota,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “The Public Housing Fire Safety Act would provide money to install fire sprinkler systems in older, high-rise public housing units. Passing this bill in the House is an important step forward towards ensuring that our buildings are safe for all residents.”

“The IAFC thanks Senator Smith for her persistence in protecting public housing residents from fatal fires. Providing funding for retrofit fire sprinkler installations in public housing is the most effective way for Congress to stop these devastating fires from ravaging our communities. The IAFC applauds the House for providing $25 million for fire sprinkler retrofit installations in public housing developments and looks forward to working with Senator Smith to secure identical funding in the Senate.” – Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, President and Chairman of the Board, International Association of Fire Chiefs

“I am thankful for the proactive leadership of Senator Smith for introducing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act. As the President of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, and as a former firefighter, Fire Chief and State Fire Marshal, I know there is no reason we should have residents in public housing dying in fires like we 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 do not have fire sprinklers. There is a simple solution – we need to retrofit these public housing units with fire sprinklers. Senator’s Smith’s leadership and the bill as proposed will create a grant program to help public housing agencies install fire sprinklers. This is a straightforward idea that we are so happy to see move forward.” – Shane Ray, President, National Fire Sprinkler Association

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.