Public Housing Smoking Ban: Proposed Rule Would Forbid Lighting Up In All Federally Subsidized Housing

Public housing authorities nationwide would have to enact a smoking ban inside all homes and common areas of federally-subsidized projects if a new rule gets put into place, the New York Times is reporting.

On Thursday, officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new rule (PDF) that, if enacted, would require Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to “[prohibit] lit tobacco products in all living units, indoor common areas in public housing, and in PHA administrative office buildings (in brief, a smoke-free policy for all public housing indoor areas).” The smoking ban would also extend to 25 feet from all buildings, essentially banning outdoor smoking in public housing as well.

Since 2009, in an effort to protect residents of public housing from secondhand smoke, reduce the risk of fires, and reduce maintenance costs, the federal government has been pushing for state and local public housing authorities to ban smoking in their properties.

In some places, local public housing authorities have already instituted smoking bans. Philadelphia, for example, banned smoking in all of its public housing properties in July of this year. After polling residents and finding that 55 percent favored living in a smoke-free environment, the Philadelphia Housing Authority banned smoking in all public housing units, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Kelvin A. Jeremiah, president and CEO of Philadelphia Housing, praised the smoking ban.

“This isn’t just about punishing tenants. We wanted to be ahead of the curve. That’s the national trend.”

As of this writing, it’s not clear how Philadelphia is enforcing its public housing smoking ban, or whether or not residents have been complying.

Similarly, Annapolis, Maryland banned smoking in the city’s public housing properties in 2014, according to the Capital Gazette.

Other public housing authorities may not be so enthusiastic about the proposed new rule. Many are “overburdened” and are reluctant to enforce what is essentially a policy against what residents do in their own homes. One agency likely to feel the effects of the smoking ban the worst is New York’s public housing agency, Nycha. With some 400,000 people living in 178,000 apartments, Nycha is the largest public housing agency in the country. Shola Olatoye, Nycha’s chairwoman and president, expressed doubt about how a smoking ban would be enforced in New York.

“For us, the major issue is our ability to enforce something like this. There’s clearly a need for addressing this issue head-on. The question is, how do we do it?”

Some Nycha residents are not at all on board with a proposed smoking ban. Forty-seven-year-old Gary Smith, who lives in public housing in Brooklyn, tells the Times that he doesn’t appreciate being told what he can and can’t do inside his own home.

“What I do in my apartment should be my problem, long as I pay my rent.”

He also expressed skepticism at how the smoking ban could be enforced.

“You don’t know what’s going on in people’s apartment. What are they going to do, smell your apartment?””

Another Brooklynite, 25-year-old Lesli Lino, welcomes the idea of a smoking ban. She’s turned off by the lingering smell of secondhand smoke in the hallways and common areas of her building.

“It’s horrible,” she said.

For Patrick Kwan, director of NYC Smoke-Free, there’s no debate about smoking in public housing.

“Smoke-free housing is definitely the next frontier in tobacco control efforts, and this is something where we can make an enormous difference for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.”

Do you think the government is right to ban smoking in public housing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Image via Shutterstock/Panacea Doll]