The air conditioner at the home that Vogt, 32, her three children and teenage nephew rent in southeast San Antonio has been broken for several months.
At some point, Vogt gave her kids cups of ice to chew or popsicles all day long, hoping it would help them cool their bodies.
“I couldn’t let any of my kids suffer in this heat,” said Vogt, who makes a living selling custom T-shirts. The family couldn’t wait any longer for their landlord to make repairs and purchased the units a couple of weeks ago after dipping into money meant to pay their electric bill.
Triple-digit temperatures have been reported in parts of California, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee this week, and meteorologists estimate that more than 85% of the population — or 275 million Americans — could see high temperatures above 90 degrees over the next week.
To avoid the distressing heat and its potential health risks, officials in multiple cities are encouraging residents to stay indoors in air-conditioned spaces. But that’s not an option for Americans who work in agriculture, construction and for those who can’t afford the cost of the electricity needed to power cooling units.
Kayla Miranda, a housing advocate who lives in San Antonio’s oldest and largest public housing project, Alazan-Apache Courts, with her children, said many of her neighbors are constantly forced to decide between paying for electricity, food, gas or medicines because they can ‘t afford to cover everything with their income.
Miranda says she pays about $350 a month for electricity when the city sees triple-digit temperatures. The three window air-conditioning units in her 789-square-feet apartment are only able to cool the rooms to about 80-85 degrees.
“That’s the most of these little units can handle and they’re running over time,” said Miranda, adding that the complex where she lives has not had A/C installed since it was built in the 1930s.
“We have tenants that are choosing to not turn on the A/C so that they can still pay their rent and not be homeless. Or they’re choosing to take their medicine over having air conditioning and that should never be the case,” Miranda added.
The so-called urban heat island effect
This is because of the so-called urban heat island effect, which has made some urban communities even more vulnerable. Areas with a lot of asphalt, buildings and freeways tend to absorb a significant amount of the sun’s energy and emit it as heat. Areas with green space — parks, rivers, tree-lined streets — absorb and emit less.
Miranda has seen the urban heat island effect in her neighborhood. A few weeks ago, she says, her brother walked with her 5-year-old son to a convenience store a block away.
“My poor little boy came back with his face so red. He came in and he just sat on the couch for like an hour. He did not move and I’ve never seen that before,” she says.
With heat being one of the top weather-related causes of death in the US, authorities across the nation are urging residents to prioritize being in air-conditioned spaces to avoid any heat-related illnesses.
In Arizona’s Maricopa County, there have been 29 confirmed heat-associated deaths during the 2022 heat season with the first death reported on March 13, according to the county’s public health department.