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The Periscope

Curing Ignorance Through the Lens

Turning Up the Heat


An initiative utilizing "algorithmic advocacy" wants to bring better winter heating to tenants.

Although the temperature is in the 80’s and 90’s across much of the U.S. today, last winter is still a chilling thought. For renters, wintertime can be especially grueling since temperature controls are often left up to landlords. Some buildings may experience maintenance problems while there are others whose owners have been known to deliberately set their thermostats low in order to save on heating costs, creating indoor conditions ranging from uncomfortable to downright dangerous.

This is especially true in New York City where buildings tend to be older (meaning no central heating and more maintenance issues), the housing market is tricky, and winters are usually biting. While the city requires landlords to heat units to at least 68 degrees from 6am to 10pm during “Heat Season” (October 1 to May 31), the mandate is often broken. In cases where owners are unresponsive, tenants have to manually log indoor and outdoor temperatures and then go to housing court or attempt to get a city inspector to come to their apartment. In just one Manhattan zip code, there were over 28,000 complaints in one year (and there’s over 40 zip codes in Manhattan, not to mention the other four boroughs).

That’s why a new initiative called Heat Seek NYC is raising funds for 1,000 sensors which will automatically read and record temperatures every hour. Using crowdsourced funding, the “civic hacking project” plans on distributing the devices this winter throughout buildings in the city, especially where tenants may have cause for concern and at no cost to them. The data can be sent to an app, accessible to tenants and public advocates, and anonymously linked to the city’s complaint records. The app can also be used by anyone with the device, not just those using it in New York City. The creators of the project hope to use the information gathered in housing court cases and that eventually heating code violations will see a drastic decline. Co-creator William Jeffries notes that the project utilizes "algorithmic advocacy" which he describes as "automating advocacy and using technology to stand up for people."

Photo by Kelle Cruz, licensed under Creative Commons.