NIAGARA FALLS - For residents of public housing the rules on smoking are getting stricter, with a new federal ban on smoking in apartments and in common areas and offices.
That smoking ban was announced Nov. 30 by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. All 3,100 public housing authorities are required to implement a smoke-free policy over the next 18 months.
In Niagara Falls, where residents are still permitted to smoke in public housing, nearly 700 units will be affected.
Niagara Falls Housing Authority Interim Director Patricia Barone told trustees at their Dec. 7 meeting they are looking for a little bit of guidance on how to enact and monitor this restriction. Barone said they have been informing residents of the HUD ban at residential meetings.
Trustee Cynthia Bianco expressed her concern that by not allowing smoking in private residences the authority will make public housing feel less like like a home for some residents.
"This is going to be a big education process," said Bianco. "Residents units are their homes. We have tried to promote that in everything we do, but I think this is the right thing to do."
Barone noted that many housing authorities have prohibited smoking in public housing residences since 2009. She said these successes encouraged HUD to mandate the policy nationwide. Tobacco is already banned in 228,000 public housing units nationwide, according to HUD, but the new restriction will ban smoking in another 940,000 units.
According to the smoke free rule, the use of tobacco will be prohibited in all living units, indoor common areas and administrative office buildings. The smoking ban will also extend to 25 feet beyond the public housing and administrative offices.
The ban is expected to improve air quality in the housing and benefit the health of public housing residents, visitors and staff. The policy will also reduce the risk of catastrophic fire and lower overall maintenance costs, according to HUD. HUD projected the new ruling will save public housing authorities $153 million each year, including $94 million in secondhand-smoke related health-care costs, $43 million in renovation of smoking-permitted units, and $16 million in fire losses.
The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is one of hundreds of public housing authorities that have already banned smoking in all of its buildings, including individual apartments. The BMHA rolled out a soft start in July and will begin enforcing the ban next month.
Barone said in Niagara Falls they were reluctant to start a ban because they didn't know how to enforce it.
"I assume it's going to cost some money to enforce it," said Barone. She said non-compliance can be a condition of eviction.
NFHA Attorney Jason Cafarella said when a tenant signs a lease they are required to follow the rules or face eviction, which in this case will include the no-smoking policy.
However Cafarella said he's not sure a judge would remove someone based on these grounds alone. Trustees said working with smokers to help them to stop smoking should also be part of the policy.
Barone said she met with representatives at Roswell Park Cancer Institute about a month or two ago.
"Roswell is very, of course, anti-smoking and they have given us some plaques and signs to put up," said Barone. "We've started establishing that, but it's not going to be as easy as that."