A proposed ban on smoking inside of three Auburn affordable housing complexes comes with a message to the residing smoking tenants: If you don't like it, leave.
Residents of Olympia Terrace and Melone Village may no longer be able to smoke inside of their apartments in the near future. A total of 238 housing units would be affected by the ban.
If approved, the ban would take effect on Sept. 1.
Tenants were informed of the potential action in May by the managing entity of the complexes, Auburn Housing Authority. The authority's third facility, Brogan Manor, converted into a private affordable housing facility in Sept. 2013.
Pending a series of renovations, those 88 units will be smoke-free indoors by 2015, said Stephanie Hutchinson, executive director.
The ban only extends to indoor smoking; smoking outdoors would still be permitted. The policy would apply to all users including guests and staff.
There will be a public hearing at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 7 regarding the proposal. A vote from the authority's nine-member board of commissioners is scheduled to follow.
The proposal has been in the works for around four years, said Stephanie Hutchinson, executive director. While property management has feared the residential backlash that such a policy could create, several elements factored into the authority's decision to move forward.
Through the May memo, the authority has encouraged tenants who do not wish to comply with the ban to submit a move-out notice or risk termination. Citing a high demand for public housing in the community, Hutchinson is confident that vacated units can be filled quickly.
"We think it's a small price to pay for the housing services people are receiving," she said.
She also called the implementation of a smoking ban a logical next step for AHA to take. Through statements in the past, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the two agencies that regulate AHA properties, have encouraged indoor smoking policies for public housing complexes.
There's a difference between smoking in a private home and smoking inside a public housing unit, Hutchinson said.
“When one person decides to light a cigarette, they put everybody in that building at risk.”
Factors behind policy
Chief among the authority's concerns with implementing an indoor smoking ban was safety.
Hutchinson said secondhand smoke can travel quickly between densely packed units. She cited the smoke's carcinogenic qualities, saying neighbors should not be subject to such health risks involuntarily.
"If your neighbors smoke, you will smell it in your unit," she said.
AHA also considered the fire hazard that mishandled smoking materials pose. But not every factor was health-related: Cleaning up after smoking tenants, Hutchinson said, puts an additional financial burden on the authority.
Preparing a housing unit for a new tenant typically takes around one week for maintenance staff to complete. A residence that has had continued exposure to cigarette smoke requires increased washing and a double — sometimes triple — coat of paint to adequately clean the unit, Hutchinson said.
This increased work could mean several more days, and money, spent on maintenance. As such, Hutchinson said the authority would like the residential turnover to be as quick as possible.
“It benefits the people waiting on our very long waiting lists,” she said.
If a ban is ultimately approved, enforcement would come through general unit inspections, which occur at least once a year. Outside of these inspections, the authority would rely on complaints from other residents to enforce the new measure.
One violation would result in a warning, Hutchinson said. The second would result in the termination of the lease, a process that can be appealed.
As with past inspections, Hutchinson said tenants would be notified in advance. Surprise inspections are only authorized only for emergencies.
“We're not going to bust down someone's door because we think they might be smoking,” she said.
Citing the results of a survey conducted by the Cayuga Community Health Network in March, Hutchinson said she was confident that feedback on the ban would be mostly positive.
In that survey, 57 percent of respondents said a ban on smoking inside of apartments would be good. This rose to 66 percent regarding a ban on smoking inside of common areas. There were approximately 100 respondents in total.
“There is no smoking indoors in New York state in public areas,” Hutchinson said. “This is the next step we're taking.”