Politics & Government

Congress must take action after Columbia public housing deaths, 2020 candidate says

A candidate for the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nomination is calling for congressional action after two men died in a Columbia public housing complex.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is teaming up with U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, to propose legislation that would mandate carbon monoxide detectors in public housing units subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“These are preventable tragedies,” Harris said in a statement quoted by NBC News. “We must act now to get carbon monoxide detectors in HUD housing to protect the health and well-being of the millions who reside there.”

The legislation follows the deaths of two men from carbon monoxide poisoning at Columbia’s Allen Benedict Court apartments in January. More than 400 people were evacuated from the Harden Street complex after inspectors found multiple gas leaks in the aging property following the deaths.

“This bill helps deliver that peace of mind among our most vulnerable by ensuring federally assisted housing (residences) have carbon monoxide detectors,” Cunningham said in a statement to NBC News, which found that at least 11 public housing residents nationwide have died of carbon monoxide poisoning since 2003.

Harris has placed an emphasis on South Carolina since announcing her run for the presidency in 2020. Harris spoke in Columbia shortly after Allen Benedict Court was evacuated back in January, her first official campaign appearance in this early primary state.

She’s made two more appearances in South Carolina since then, and her Twitter account has highlighted efforts by S.C. teachers organizing for higher pay and Palmetto State students to pass gun reform legislation.

“The federal government has an obligation to ensure that residents of public housing can raise their families in a safe and healthy environment,” Harris said of the carbon monoxide bill Tuesday. “Housing is a human right.”

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Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.