What: Chattanooga Housing Authority board meeting
When: 12:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: CHA main office, 801 N. Holtzclaw Ave.
Jesse Lawrence has smoked for more than 20 years, but she supports the Chattanooga Housing Authority's policy to make Fairmount Apartments the first nonsmoking public housing site in the city.
"If you know you're living in government property, you have to live by their rules," said Lawrence, who lives in East Lake Courts.
Lawrence, who said she's been trying to stop smoking for a year, is among the Chattanooga public housing residents who will be watching in March when the $4.6 million Fairmount Apartments opens with its nonsmoking policy.
CHA board members are scheduled to discuss the nonsmoking rule at its board meeting Tuesday.
If all goes as planned when Fairmount opens, CHA will become one of more than 285 public housing sites nationwide -- about 10 percent of the country's total -- with a ban on indoor smoking, according to the Michigan-based Smoke Free Environment Law Project.
"I applaud the Chattanooga Housing Authority for adopting this policy," said Jim Bergman, founder of the project.
The penalty for smoking inside Fairmount Apartments could be as severe as eviction, said Jim Sattler, CHA board vice president.
"Once smoke gets into a place, it stays pretty stagnant. It's there. It's prevalent," Sattler said. "So it's going to be a serious situation."
Designated smoking areas outside the apartments will be provided, he said.
Housing officials can expect the site to have healthier residents and lower cleaning costs, said Bergman. Turning over an apartment unit that once held smokers costs an additional $1,000 to $3,000 because of the additional cleanup, he said.
"That is washing walls to get tar and nicotine off and then two or three coats of primer and then two or three coats of paint and then prayer that the tar and nicotine don't leak through," Bergman said.
After smoking for 22 years, Lawrence said she started last year trying to quit because she heard so many smoking complaints. People talk about you when you smoke, she said.
"You don't want people turning their nose up at you," she said. "They may not be ugly about it, but they're smelling smoke. People don't want to be smelling that stuff. You can see their expression."
About 20 percent of the general U.S. population smokes, but that percentage rises to about 30 percent among people with low incomes, said Bergman.
In July 2009, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a notice "strongly" encouraging public housing authorities to implement nonsmoking policies in some or all of its public housing units.
More than 112 public housing authorities and housing commissions across the country had implemented nonsmoking policies before the end of 2009, according to the Smoke-Free Environment Law Project.
According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable disease in the United States.
Local housing officials said they made Fairmount a nonsmoking site to meet a HUD requirement when applying for a competitive grant to build the site. HUD gave housing authorities points for each requirement met and higher points increased the chance of getting the grant.
"In our application to HUD we said, 'Yes, we want to take this credit and we will make this site nonsmoking,'" said Naveed Minhas, CHA's vice president of development.
HUD chose CHA to be among 36 housing sites across the country to receive $4.5 million in stimulus money through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The money was used to build Fairmount.
Minhas said he doesn't know if smoking bans will follow for other sites.
"But my gut feeling is that it's good to go in that way in the future," he said. "I think because of health reasons ... we need to discourage smoking at the family sites with children growing up."
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...