JCHA director: Smoking ban not been 'a big problem'

Zach Vance • Aug 4, 2018 at 10:35 PM

On July 31, the Department of Housing and Urban Development initiated its nationwide smoking ban for all public housing facilities across the country, but smoking has been banned inside all of Johnson City’s government-subsidized housing since May 1.

Johnson City Housing Authority Director Richard McClain said many housing authorities decided to implement the ban earlier, on Jan. 1, but he chose to wait until warmer weather.

“We waited until May 1 to catch the weather when it's good, and not do it in January (to) make it easier for people to go outside and smoke,” McClain said. “I'm hoping that as the weather gets rougher later (in the winter) that more and more people will decide, 'Well, maybe I should go ahead and stop because I don't like being outside (in the cold).’”

The policy, first passed by the Obama administration in 2016, bans the use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes and electronic cigarettes inside all public housing units and administrative buildings. It also prevents smoking within 25 feet of all public housing entry ways, doors and windows.

Because the danger of smoking is more apparent now than ever, McClain said the policy was actually well-received by many of the residents living in the JCHA’s eight communities.

JCHA officials surveyed the residents about the smoking ban more than a year ago, and McClain said between 70 and 80 percent supported the ban. When asked to estimate how many JCHA tenants smoked, McClain said he believed it was no more than 20 percent.  

“Even smokers were saying they supported it, it wasn't just the non (smokers) versus the smokers,” he said.

“I think they recognize the second-hand smoke is a danger to others, especially children. And some say, 'Well, I go outside and smoke anyway now because I don't want to harm my children.' So it really hasn’t been a big problem for us at all. Everyone has been really respectful and willing, I think, to follow the rules.”

Even before the ban took effect, McClain said some of his residents were being very vocal about demanding people stop smoking around them. Since the ban is now in effect, he said the complaints have actually decreased.

All tenants were required to sign an addendum agreeing to abide by the policy.

According to the JCHA’s smoke-free policy, which can be found on its website, a first-offense violation will result in a warning; a second-offense violation will result in a second warning; and a third-offense violation could result in a lease termination and a charge of $250 for cleaning and painting.

“We go into each apartment each month, do a pest control service, and change out the air filters in the unit. If they've been smoking, then obviously if we're changing the air filters, we're going to pick up on that,” McClain said.

“Then we'll give them a warning, make a note of that and write it up. After three strikes you're out is the policy HUD put in place. We haven't reached that point (with anyone). I'm not even aware of anyone on strike two yet, but it might happen. I don't know, we'll see.”

In the past, some Johnson City Housing Authority units have been coated in nicotine, McClain said, which increased cleaning, painting and maintenance costs.

Working in conjunction with the Washington County-Johnson City Department of Health, tenants have been offered more smoking cessation classes with the ban in effect.

“The Health Department has been quite helpful in providing those classes to the residents who choose to quit smoking, and some (residents) have,” he said. “It's been encouraging for some to go ahead and quit because it's been known for several years that (the ban) was coming. It was no surprise, and people had time to make the decision.”

The Elizabethton Housing Authority was one of the many that implemented its ban on Jan. 1, while the Bristol Redevelopment and Housing Authority waited until July 31 to initiate its smoking policy.

In Nashville, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency  will not enforce the ban, and will instead offer current tenants a grandfathering addendum that allows them to still smoke inside their living quarters.

MDHA Jamie Berry told WPLN-FM that that housing authority wants to discourage smoking without threatening eviction.

Berry said the ban doesn’t apply to Nashville because the city recently took control of its properties from the federal government.

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