Norfolk public housing to get carbon monoxide detectors following fatal gas leak


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk’s public housing communities will soon be outfitted with carbon monoxide detectors, including a neighborhood where a woman died as the result of a gas leak in December.

Ariel Cherry, 31, died of carbon monoxide poisoning while she slept in her Oakleaf Forest home on Dec. 20. An investigation conducted by the Norfolk Fire Marshal’s Office found that the source of the gas leak was a boiler used to heat housing units.

Oakleaf Forest is a public housing community made up of more than 200 units. It is managed by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, 10 On Your Side investigators learned that NRHA installed carbon monoxide detectors in 32 units at Oakleaf Forest after Cherry died. The detectors were installed in units immediately adjacent to the property’s boiler rooms, like the one Cherry lived in. NRHA also replaced 31 carbon monoxide detectors in boiler rooms at Oakleaf Forest and Sykes Midrise by April 30, said agency spokesperson Nealy Gihan.

Cherry died one day before Congress signed a coronavirus relief package that included the “Carbon Monoxide Alarms Leading Every Resident to Safety Act.” The package included $300 million and a two-year timeline for the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all federally-funded public housing units. Prior to the bill, carbon monoxide detectors weren’t on the list for most federal housing inspections.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded NRHA with a $180,000 grant to purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors at Oakleaf Forest, Diggs Town, Calvert Square, Young Terrace, and other scattered sites. NRHA applied for the funding in October 2019 and received notice of the award about a month after Cherry died. In total, HUD awarded $4.4 million for carbon monoxide detectors to 58 public housing authorities. The Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority received more than $230,000 for carbon monoxide detectors in a previous round of funding that was issued in March 2020, according to HUD.

Giahn told 10 On Your Side investigators that five NRHA properties are still in need of carbon monoxide detectors. NRHA hasn’t contracted a company to install the carbon monoxide detectors yet, but is in the process of hiring one. The funding will be used to purchase 1,360 carbon monoxide detectors for 667 public housing units, as well as management offices, community spaces and boiler rooms.

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