The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is taking the initiative on recommendations by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to go smoke-free.
A proposed ban on smoking, presented at Thursdays BMHA board meeting, would take effect in all of the authority’s 31 residential facilities and BMHA offices.
BMHA Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett said the proposed ban is intended to ensure the health and safety of BMHA residents and employees. It would apply to all forms of smoked tobacco and e-cigarettes.
At the BMHA board meeting, Sanders-Garrett was asked about the rights of the tenants who will have to comply or face potential penalties if the plan is approved. Because the BMHA is federally subsidized, the tenants’ rights are somewhat limited.
“They certainly have the right to smoke, but they don’t have the right to smoke inside the unit,” said Sanders-Garrett.
Outreach began among residents last year in an effort to get ahead of recommendations by HUD that all housing authorities across the country go smoke-free. Sanders-Garrett said the responses have been mixed.
“Some people don’t like it,” said Sanders-Garrett. “Generally the smokers don’t like it, primarily because we’ve never had a prohibition on smoking in any of the units. It’s going to require a change in behavior for everybody.”
That change in behavior calls for more than just a new stipulation in tenants’ leases. The BMHA is working with the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Western New York at Roswell Park Cancer Institute to offer residents and employees cessation programs both inside and outside their residential communities.
“Anytime there’s a major change, it requires education. Not just once, not just twice. Repeated education of the resident population and our employees,” explained Sanders-Garrett. “It’s not just our residents. Anyone who comes from the public would have to honor the smoke-free environment.”
Under the proposal, residents and employees of the BMHA would have the right to smoke at least 25 feet from BMHA buildings. What the details of the roll-out will look like, is still in the planning phase. Penalties for violations, such as warnings, fines and eviction are being considered. Sanders-Garrett said she’s reached out to HUD for further recommendations. Locations for designated smoking areas will also have to be worked out, and Sanders-Garrett said they will be different for each of the BMHA’s properties.
The ‘how’ of the plan could stand to be impacted by the BMHA’s finances.
“In the era of reduced funding – because we’re not receiving 100 percent of our proration either in the operating subsidies side or the capital side – it makes it difficult for the housing authority to impose,” explained Sanders-Garrett.
A 45-day public comment period has already begun and is slated to end with a public hearing on March 3.
“This is a time for everyone to engage in the creation of the policy and what it looks like,” said Sanders-Garrett. “Generally, if there are things that are brought before myself or the board that need to be added to the policy or the policy needed to be tweaked, we would do that.”
If approved by the BMHA board in mid-March, the smoking ban policy is expected to begin with a “soft” implementation on July 1 and stricter enforcement by 2017. The BMHA would be joining more than 300 housing authorities nationwide in the ban on smoking. Within New York State, Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Rochester, Lockport and Kenmore’s housing authorities have already implemented the ban.