HUD urges smoke-free housing in Chattanooga

HUD urges smoke-free housing in Chattanooga

July 7th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Amber Freeman holds her son, Deonte Fisher Jr., 3-months-old, on her back porch. Freeman stopped smoking when she was pregnant with her now 3-month-old son, but has started smoking a few times a day again. But the Fairmount Apartment complex, the city's first nonsmoking public housing site and her current home, won't allow her to light up around the complex. She says she understands disallowing smoking inside a residence, but feels that public housing officials should at least permit smoking on the complex's porches.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

2: Smoke-free public housing sites in Chattanooga

300: U.S. public housing authorities with smoke-free policies, about 10 percent of the country's total public housing sites

20 percent: Smokers among general U.S. population

30 percent: Smokers among low-income people

Source: Smoke-Free Environments Law Project

POLL: Should smoking be banned from public housing?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says it won't mandate that all public housing sites become smoke-free, but the agency advocates it.

"We're out there with a notice encouraging it strongly," HUD spokeswoman Donna White said.

Fairmount Avenue Townhomes, which opened in May, is the first nonsmoking public housing site in Chattanooga. The second, Maple Hills, is scheduled to open July 18.

With them, the Chattanooga Housing Authority joined more than 300 public housing sites nationwide that ban indoor smoking, according to the Michigan-based Smoke-Free Environments Law Project.

"It's good for the health of residents and for having a healthy bottom line for housing authorities," said Jim Bergman, founder of the project.

HUD isn't mandating smoke-free public housing, because the department's primary goal is to provide affordable housing regardless whether residents use tobacco.

But HUD says that smoke-free housing is healthier, especially for seniors and mothers with children, White said. The agency is providing advice about the benefits of such a policy to housing authorities and other dwellings that receive federal rental assistance.

The HUD notice includes information about the dangers of secondhand smoke and notes that as many as 78 percent of tenants would choose to live in a smoke-free complex. The notice advises owners to advertise their buildings as smoke-free and to inform potential tenants about the policy.

Bergman said there's a financial bonus for public housing agencies that ban smoking. It costs extra to ready a public housing unit for rerental if the previous occupant smoked, he said.

"Just the savings in maintenance is a very healthy addition to a housing authority's bottom line," he said.

CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes said housing agencies get points for having nonsmoking sites when competing for some grants.

For instance, CHA got extra points when competing for $3.9 million in federal stimulus money to build Fairmount, he said.

Fairmount resident Salah Muhsin said CHA's no-smoking policy is not a problem for him.

"I hate smoke because it's bad for your health," he said. "I want to live long. People who smoke get sick and have too many problems. Problems breathing, problems with cancer."

But not all residents agree.

Amber Freeman, 21, has a 3-month-old baby, no transportation and no job. She said she's under too much stress to resist the calm she gets from smoking.

"Some people smoke because they need to," she said while sitting on her porch. "I don't know how to handle some of it so I just smoke."

She didn't smoke during her pregnancy, she said, and on some days she can't afford to smoke at all.

She said she understands not smoking in her apartment, both for her son's health and because of the damage to the apartment, but she doesn't see why she shouldn't be able to smoke on the porch.

CHA cites federal regulations stating designated smoking areas must be at least 500 feet from the buildings. The designated smoking area for Fairmount is across the parking lot and down some steps.

"That's a lot when it's really hot," she said.