Anna Rose MacArthur/KYUK
A new federal rule bans smoking in public housing nation-wide. The notice was released Wednesday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and will take effect in 18 months. But Alaska is looking to do that a lot sooner— in five to six months.
“April or May,” said Cathy Stone, Director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, which runs public housing throughout the state. “When it’s a little warmer and people can adjust to the requirement that they have to go outside to smoke.”
The federal ban applies to lit tobacco products like cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. It doesn’t apply to electronic cigarettes, but the state is leaning towards eliminating those as well. Smoking marijuana in public housing is a federal offense regardless of state law.
Stone says, the reason Alaska’s ban would come early is because the state’s Public Housing had already been developing its own non-smoking policy.
“So it was just very ironic that this announcement came out on the same day we were having a board meeting and advising our board that in January we would come out with our own policy,” she said.
Here’s how the draft state policy works: residents receive mailed notice of the change and are allowed to submit comments. Then residents sign a lease agreement regarding the new rule. And if residents are caught smoking, they receive several warnings before an eviction process would begin. Stone said the intent is not to kick people out, but to encourage compliance. And she says, residents are on board
“It’s actually been requested by multiple residents,” Stone said. “We’ve done two surveys of residents, and the majority did not want to have smoking in units. The majority of the smokers even said they thought we shouldn’t allow smoking in the units.”
Stone says the ban would prevent staff and nonsmokers from being exposed to second-hand smoke within the housing, and would save the state money.
“It’s very expensive to turn a unit once someone’s been smoking in it,” she said. “Sometimes you have to replace the carpet. You have to paint the wall multiple times.”
All that work can cost an extra 30 to 50 percent and tack an extra two to three days onto the time required to flip a non-smoker’s unit. Alaska Public Housing wants to offer resources—like hotlines and classes— to help people quit smoking when the ban takes effect. Those resources would vary by area and interest.