Uncle Sam may soon stamp out every cigarette in American public housing. On Thursday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new rule that would require the nation’s 3,100 public housing agencies to make their residences smoke-free. While the ban is likely to inconvenience many a low-income smoker and housing administrator, the department believes the move will protect the health of more than 760,000 children and save $153 million each year in costs for health care, repairs, and fires.
“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,” HUD secretary Julián Castro said in a statement.
HUD has encouraged public housing agencies to ban smoking on their properties since 2009, and 228,000 of the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units are already smoke-free. But while the New York City Housing Authority has banned smoking in the common areas of its properties, the agency has yet to guarantee smoke-free homes for the 400,000 people who populate its 178,000 apartments.
Last month, a bill that would have provided such a guarantee was introduced in the City Council. But unless the nation’s low-income smokers mount a massive resistance movement during HUD’s 60-day comment period, that legislation will prove unnecessary.
The proposal divides residents of NYCHA along predictable lines.
“What I do in my apartment should be my problem, long as I pay my rent,” Gary Smith told the New York Times, while smoking outside the Walt Whitman Houses in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
“People have asthma, people have all different kinds of sicknesses and they get into your system. It’s a good thing, I think it should be done,” one anonymous public-housing tenant in Red Hook told New York 1.
Smoking violations would be classified as nuisance infractions, which are not supposed to result in eviction.
If the rule is approved, what is currently a privilege currently reserved for many of the city’s wealthiest tenants — rules that prevent smoking anywhere in a building — would be forced upon its poorest. While fewer than 4 percent of rentals listed on StreetEasy are located in buildings with smoke-free guarantees, according to the Times, those units rent for $1,000 to $1,300 more than comparable apartments that lack such protections.