HUD proposes smoking ban across all public housing

Stephon Johnson | 11/19/2015, 12:08 p.m.
If the New York City Housing Authority is a microcosm of public housing around the country, a lot of work ...
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If the New York City Housing Authority is a microcosm of public housing around the country, a lot of work needs to be done with the infrastructure. Leaks, fallen ceilings and other health issues have dominated much of public housing conditions the past several decades. However, officials in Washington, D.C., want to start fixing housing conditions by banning smoking.

Last week, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro proposed a new rule that would require each public housing agency to implement a smoke-free policy.

“This proposed rule would require each public housing agency administering public housing to implement a smoke-free policy,” read the proposal. “Specifically, this rule proposes that no later than 18 months from the effective date of the final rule, each PHA must implement a policy prohibiting 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 smoke-free policy must also extend to all outdoor areas up to 25 feet from the housing and administrative office buildings. HUD proposes implementation of smoke-free public housing to improve indoor air quality in the housing, benefit the health of public housing residents and PHA staff, reduce the risk of catastrophic fires and lower overall maintenance costs.”

Castro said the point of the rule is to improve health care for hundreds of thousands of young Americans and save money on health care costs.

“We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases,” said Castro in a statement. “This proposed rule will help improve the health of more than 760,000 children and help public housing agencies save $153 million every year in health care, repairs and preventable fires.”

But one might wonder why a smoking ban of all things and why now? New York City public housing residents, in particular, have more than smoking issues to worry about. In an audit this past May, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called out NYCHA for misleading the public about fixing the backlog of repairs for public housing residents. Stringer went on to accuse NYCHA of reporting repairs in a way that it “obscures the actual amount of time it takes NYCHA to fully complete repairs.”

“For the 400,000 New Yorkers who live in NYCHA housing, the Authority’s handling of repairs is a case study in mismanagement,” said Stringer in a statement in May. “There is a backlog of over 50,000 repairs—including thousands that have been ignored for over a year. During our audit we learned of one tenant who had a leaky ceiling that was so bad that she had to cancel Christmas, and another who had to deal with a leak for more than a decade.”

Stringer’s audit took a look at NYCHA’s maintenance and repairs from Jan. 1, 2013, through July 31, 2014.

The AmNews called NYCHA officials about the repairs versus the proposed smoking ban and asked how far along were they since Stringer’s audit.

“It is no secret there is an environmental, quality of life and health impact related to secondhand smoke, and we want to address it head on,” NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye told the AmNews. “As we review HUD’s proposed new rule, we want to ensure residents are a key part of the process.”

NYCHA officials said that there needs to be “strong resident engagement” to address issues around enforcement and take a holistic approach, including partnerships and offering support for residents who want to quit smoking.