CMHA properties becoming smoke free

EAST LIVERPOOL — All properties owned and managed by the Columbiana-Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) will be smoke-free as of June 30, 2018 following action taken this week by its board of directors.

Acting on a mandate from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the board voted to incorporate the smoke-free policy into its lease agreement to take effect on that date, when smoking inside even tenants’ residences will be forbidden, as well as within 25 feet of any windows, doors, balconies, and other areas on CMHA grounds except those identified as designated smoking areas.

Board members learned of the edict from executive Director Bernie Bennett, who said it is a result of concerns about second hand smoke and said this mandate is being enacted nationally by HUD.

Not only apartments in CMHA high-rise buildings but its scattered housing is included in the smoking ban, Bennett emphasized, with some board members a bit skeptical.

Member Judy Fannin asked, “How are you going to enforce this. Your house, your castle.”

The policy’s enforcement provisions call for written warnings for up to four violations, with referral to smoking cessation services after the second and third violations and private conferences with the manager after the third and fourth violations.

At the fourth violation, a tenant will also be informed by the manager about the CMHA policy and that subsequent breaches could result in lease termination.

A fifth violation will result in legal referral for eviction.

Bennett said there are already judges on record saying they will not evict anyone for a smoking violation, saying, “I don’t know what our local judges will do. It will be difficult to enforce.”

Member Jimmy Gibbs pondered, “How many people do you think are going to move out (over this ban)?”

Bennett said that, while he has not seen any polls, he believes the general public supports not having to encounter second hand smoke in public venues, saying he thinks the friction arises when they tell people they can’t do it in their own homes.

Board member Steve Wilkins, who is in a wheelchair and uses oxygen, said that, while his condition was not caused by smoking, “You have to protect me when I go down that hallway (in a CMHA property) and there’s smoke coming out of an apartment.”

Bennett said, “You shouldn’t lose your Constitutional rights just because you live in public housing, but even if all of us thought it was an infringement on tenants’ rights, it wouldn’t matter, because it is HUD mandated.”

Instead of waiting until 2018, Wilkins moved to enact the policy immediately, but his motion died for lack of a second.

Bennett said the idea behind taking action now to add the policy with the 2018 implementation date is to make the public aware the mandate is coming.

“Get it out there so people can beat you up in the paper and get it out of their system,” Bennett said.

The board discussed the possibility of offering smoking cessation education and assistance, with Bennett asking, “Who’s going to pay for all of this?” and Gibbs responding to a suggestion that smoking cessation medication could also be subsidized by saying, “But, not everybody’s a smoker.”

Bennett said that, in addition to health concerns, smoking does cause other issues, such as fires and higher rehab costs to clean units inhabited by long-time smokers.

Smokers will be accommodated in designated smoking areas that Bennett said will essentially be pavilions with roofs, saying if walls were added, “then it would become a unit.”

Already, smoking education videos are being shown at each CMHA site to help answer questions, Bennett said.

He noted that public housing such as Heights Manor in LaCroft will not be required to follow this mandate, even though federally funded, because it is privately owned.

The CMHA operates 479 units, including Fawcett Apartments, Woodland Hills and Riverview Towers in East Liverpool; Independence Square and Shoub Towers in Wellsville and 46 scattered housing sites.