Northampton Housing Authority to become smoke-free



Published: 03-22-2017 10:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Residents in the Northampton Housing Authority’s more than 600 apartments will soon have to go outside to smoke.

The housing authority’s board had discussed a smoking ban in the past but no action was taken before the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s federal rule made it mandatory for all public housing agencies to be smoke-free in December 2016.

“We have to comply with the law,” Executive Director Cara Clifford said. “I’m not losing the funding. I had to do this.”

The housing authority’s board passed a resolution unanimously Feb. 27 which will prohibit smoking inside of apartments and on balconies. The federal rule went into effect Feb. 3.

The ban’s enforcement policy at the Northampton Housing Authority’s 618 apartments will begin June 1. For new residents just moving into housing authority apartments, the policy was effective March 1, according to meeting minutes.

The housing authority manages apartments at the McDonald House, Forsander and Cahill Apartments, Tobin Manor, Salvo House, and Hampshire and Florence Heights.

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The federal rule requires all public housing agencies administering public housing to implement a smoke-free policy no later than 18 months after the February date. As well as indoors, the smoke-free policy must cover all outdoor areas up to 25 feet from the public housing and administrative office buildings.

“This rule improves indoor air quality in the housing; benefits the health of public housing residents, visitors, and PHA (public housing agency) staff; reduces the risk of catastrophic fires; and lowers overall maintenance costs,” the rule states.

As part of the policy in Northampton, smoking is defined as “inhaling, exhaling, burning or carrying any lighted cigar, cigarette, electronic nicotine delivery system or ‘vaporized nicotine* product’ (electronic cigarette), pipe, hookah, or any form of lighted object or device that contains tobacco and/or marijuana, including but not limited to medical marijuana.”

Clifford said the housing authority was looking into smoking shelters for each property with the goal of at least one at each location, but the reality may differ because the shelters cost more than $1,900 each. Signs will also be posted in the buildings as well as outdoors.

The organization is also looking at connecting residents with cessation programs in the community. The Northampton Senior Center is offering a free six-week series, “How to Quit Smoking,” for those 55 and older on Thursday afternoons beginning April 6.

Since news went out to residents, Clifford said it’s been a “mixed bag” of reactions.

On a blustery Wednesday afternoon, residents at multiple housing authority properties couldn’t be found outside.

Residents were given information packets on smoke-free housing. A letter that will be sent to residents is being written and lease addendums will be mailed out to tenants, according to Clifford.

Of the 47 housing authorities in the state of Massachusetts listed by HUD, only three — including Northampton — did not have some or all of their properties smoke-free as of October 2015.

Smoke-free housing doesn’t mean that those who smoke can’t live in them, only that smokers can no longer indulge in the apartments or common areas.

“There is no ‘right’ to smoke in a rental home, and smokers are not a protected sub-class under anti-discrimination laws,” the rule states. “In addition, this rule does not prohibit smoking by residents; rather, it requires that if residents smoke that they do so at least 25 feet away from the buildings.”

Not ‘foolproof’ but in place

The approximately 200 units with the Amherst Housing Authority have been smoke-free since 2014.

“We had a lot of residents behind us,” said Debbie Turgeon, executive director of the Amherst Housing Authority. “They actually really wanted it to take place.”

However, Turgeon said not everyone was and is on-board with the ban and enforcement remains the hardest part.

Enforcement is a little bit tough, Turgeon said because residents will complain that their neighbors are smoking, which is harder to handle than if someone is actually seen on site smoking.

“Is it foolproof? No, but it is in place,” she said. “We’re on it all the time. It’s a hard thing to keep under control.”

Residents weren’t told to quit smoking but rather do it off the property, Turgeon explained.

“Of course, we had some folks leave,” Turgeon said. “We have lost some of the heavy smokers.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at