After deadly Columbia gas leak, Congress mandates CO detectors in public housing

A provision included in the $900 billion Covid-19 relief bill signed by President Trump this week will require carbon monoxide detectors in all federally subsidized housing.

The new rules come nearly two years after two residents in Columbia’s Allen Benedict Court housing project died from a gas leak there. The city’s code enforcement later found 869 code violations at the property, including missing carbon monoxide detectors.

An investigation from NBC News revealed that at least 13 public housing residents nationwide have died from carbon monoxide poisoning since 2013.

The bill provides $300 million in funding over three years to help place carbon monoxide detectors in all public housing units, as well as private housing units whose owners receive federal subsidies.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said he was pleased to see the provision receive unequivocal support from his colleagues in the House and Senate. Prompted by the two deaths at Allen Benedict Court, Scott co-wrote an earlier Senate bill that would have required detectors.

“Even one life lost to carbon monoxide poisoning is too many,” said Scott, a Republican. “By requiring carbon monoxide detectors in public housing, we will keep more families safe and sound.”

Scott said the new provision received support from the Carolina Council of Housing Redevelopment and Codes Officials, the South Carolina Association of Housing Authority Executive Directors, the City of Columbia, and 27 local Housing Authorities across South Carolina.

“We hope that the tragedy of Allen Benedict Court can be instructive for other housing authorities across the country,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. “I’m glad to see some good come out of this atrocity.”

Ivory Mathews, the current director of the Columbia Housing Authority, said she was grateful for Scott’s dedication to getting the rules passed. Last November, she testified before Congress in support of the legislation he co-authored.

In her testimony, Mathews said that the Columbia Housing had already installed carbon monoxide detectors throughout its public housing properties but that additional funding for such safety measures was crucial.

“It is super important for us to have these rules to govern us, to make sure that we do and keep our residents safe and provide safe and healthy housing environment for all,” she said. “Our hearts and thoughts and prayers are always with both families of the men who died and we’re certainly going to do everything we can to make sure a tragedy like that never happens again.”