On a unanimous vote Monday night, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority passed a smoking ban for all of its properties. The ban will go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.
The four-member panel began considering the ban in late 2009, shortly after a fire that was caused by smoking did $40,000 damage to Babcock Place, one of its properties. The same building sustained $250,000 damage during a fire nine years earlier, also because of smoking.
Late last year, the housing authority formed a committee to investigate ways to help its tenants stop smoking, while it also polled residents. The housing authority asked people what they thought about the possibility of a smoking ban. Housing authority Executive Director Barbara Huppee said 70 percent of residents said they would support a smoking ban. Huppee said that approximately 30 percent of tenants are smokers.
Huppee said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a directive last year to the 3,200 housing authorities throughout the United States, urging them to enact smoking bans at their properties.
Huppee said Lawrence is now the 167th housing authority to adopt a smoking ban, and only the second in Kansas. She wasn’t sure which other Kansas housing authority had approved a ban.
The local housing authority provides subsidized housing to elderly and low-income people. It owns apartments that include Edgewood Homes, 1600 Haskell Ave.; Babcock Place, 1700 Mass.; Peterson Acres I and II, 2930 Peterson Road; Clinton Place, 2125 Clinton Parkway; and various individual sites scattered across the city. In total, the buildings provide 429 units.
One resident attended the Monday night meeting. Pat Benabe, who has been a housing authority tenant for the past six years, described the ban as “ludicrous.” She said the smoking ban would be difficult for older residents who will have to leave their apartment to light up. “For the elderly population, cigarettes have been a part of their life; it’s almost automatic,” she said.
Benabe added that she does not believe the ban will lead to people quitting the habit. “I don’t think people are going to stop smoking because of a ban; they’re going to stop smoking by choice,” she said.
Huppee said she expects that six months notice will be adequate time for people to make any changes to accommodate the smoking ban. A “smoking hut” will be added to Clinton Place for smoking tenants. The other apartment buildings are already equipped with outdoor shelter areas for smokers.
The housing authority expects to iron out issues regarding enforcement and punishment between now and when the ban goes into effect.