Housing authority adopts smoke-free rule

The Altoona Housing Authority on Wednesday adopted a smoke-free policy for its public housing complexes and offices, in keeping with a Department of Housing and Urban Development rule that went into effect a year ago.

Beginning July 30, no one may smoke anywhere indoors at those locations or outdoors within 25 feet of them. Prior to adoption, the authority posted the coming rule change at the two downtown towers, Fairview Hills family development and its administrative offices, inviting comment, but none was forthcoming, according to Executive Director Cheryl Johns.

The lack of comment was surprising, said board Chairwoman Robin Beck — an observation repeated by several other officials at a meeting Wednesday.

At a recent Residents Advisory Committee meeting, however, some committee members, including nonsmokers, called the rule change unfair, Johns said.

A survey of residents more than a year ago brought forth comments both pro and con, Johns said.

Many residents who smoke probably don’t take the coming ban seriously yet, said solicitor Bill Haberstroh.

And they’re likely to ignore it even when the time comes to enforce it, he said.

When enforcement begins, there will be a “hue and cry,” with residents complaining about the prohibition, he predicted.

There probably will be finger-pointing back-and-forth, according to Johns, who illustrated that with her hands.

There has been talk of lawsuits, Haberstroh added.

One potential gripe with the ban is that it doesn’t apply to those living in Section 8 housing, which is federally subsidized, like public housing, but privately owned, Johns said.

The new policy would allow the use of electronic delivery systems for nicotine within housing units, but not in public areas, including outdoors within 25 feet of buildings connected with public housing.

The policy calls for “a graduated enforcement framework that includes escalating warnings.”

Four documented violations, however, “will constitute grounds for termination of tenancy,” although violators will have the right to an informal settlement and formal hearing.

It’s possible that before the enforcement date, the Trump administration will do away with the ban, which was set in motion under the Obama administration, Johns said.

In that case, the authority could rescind the policy, she said.

HUD adopted the rule requiring the ban to eliminate the health risks of firsthand and secondhand smoke, to reduce the risk of fire and to reduce maintenance costs.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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