HUD Chief Julián Castro announced that “all” public housing agencies must implement a smoke-free policy within the next 18 months. So expect to see ‘No smoking signs” posted at public housing developments across the country.
This new rule will apply to more than 3,100 Public Housing Agencies and 940,000 federally-subsidized public housing units. Some agencies have already implemented smoke-free policies under HUD’s voluntary policy — that’s about 200,000 housing units. But, this new rule will bring the total number up to 1.2 million units.
The rule will go into effect next year, but public housing agencies are being given 18 months to implement it. The New York Times says the rule will have the biggest impact in New York, which has 178,000 units and few smoke-free rules so far. HUD actually began encouraging the smoke-free policy, on a voluntary basis, in 2009.
The smoke-free rule is meant to eliminate the danger of secondhand smoke for nonsmokers, and especially for children. It’s estimated that 760,000 children in the U.S. live in public housing.
The new policy will ban cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and hookahs from all apartments, indoor common areas, and administrative offices. It also bans outdoor smoking within 25 feet of a building in the development. It will “not” ban electronic cigarettes.
Castro says the rule is not meant to result in evictions. Housing agencies that have already adopted smoke-free policies have been enforcing them with warnings and fines. Residents are also provided with educational material, counseling, and things like nicotine patches to quit smoking.
HUD will not pay for the enforcement of the policies, but says the benefits of the policy may results in fewer overall expenses for agencies. The money-saving benefits include lower maintenance costs associated with smoking, a lower risk of fire and the cost of repairs from that, and fewer complaints from other residents. HUD also believes the policy could lead to a lower turn-over of residents because they won’t be as likely to move if second-hand smoke is not a problem.
HUD solicited comments from the public about the policy. Some feel it’s wrong to ban people from smoking inside their own apartments. But health officials say it’s impossible to keep second-hand smoke from traveling through ventilation systems and other passageways, and spreading into other apartments and common areas.
When it comes to having designated outdoor smoking areas with places for people to sit, HUD says it isn’t requiring any agency to create them, and in some situations it may be impossible to find a place on the property that’s 25 feet from any building. But, HUD says that public housing developments that have already adopted the policy have been able to set up designated smoking areas. And he says there has been increased compliance with the smoking ban at those developments. PHAs also have the right to make an entire development smoke-free.
The Times reported on Castro’s response to a question about whether this policy might change under a Trump administration. He said he didn’t feel that a Trump presidency would change anything because: “The public health benefit to this policy is so tremendous, and the residents’ support for going smoke-free is so tremendous out there, that this rule will stick.”
He said: “Public housing will go smoke-free and remain smoke-free, and, because of that, so many folks are going to live healthier lives and have a better shot at reaching their dreams because they have good health.”
The new smoke-free rule may send some public housing tenants running to find private rentals that allow smoking. But many landlords have also smoke-free rules for rentals — and then there are state and local rules in many parts of the country.
But all these rules vary. Wikipedia has a list of statewide smoking bans that it calls “unique”. So any landlords out there, before you finalize your rental agreements, check local and state rules on smoking in private dwellings and make sure you include any necessary details, in your lease agreements.