HRHA Kickin’ The Habit?

Agency Officials Mull Smoking Ban

Posted: November 16, 2013

The Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority is considering a no-smoking policy for its properties, including the Polly Lineweaver Apartments on North Main Street. (Photo by Preston Knight / DN-R)
HARRISONBURG — Butt out, cigarettes, the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority is thinking before saying.

Executive Director Michael Wong brought the idea of a no-smoking policy at agency-owned properties to HRHA’s board of directors Wednesday. The panel then gave Wong and his staff permission to write a policy for review at its next meeting.

The regulation, if adopted, would prohibit smoking inside the agency’s 249 units and outside each of the buildings for a complete smoke-free environment, Wong said.

“We had a good, spirited discussion. We came to no definitive conclusion other than we would support going ahead with a proposal developed,” board member Elroy Miller said Thursday. “Obviously, [no smoking] is less costly for maintenance. It’s also much more pleasant for folks who have allergies and who are bothered by secondary smoke.

“The dilemma is, smoking is a right in our country and people can do that if they wish.”

When an occupant who smokes leaves an authority-owned unit, the cost to prepare it for a new tenant is “almost triple” compared to situations where a non-smoker vacates it, Wong said. Carpets are usually replaced and multiple coats of paint are applied to the walls in those instances, he said.

“It requires a comprehensive unit turnover,” he said. “Even if it’s only been a short period of time, it becomes so smoke smelling. [Residents have] had problems with respiratory issues, especially if there’s smoking in the hallways. It’s just been an increasing issue.”

Unit preparation costs vary depending on the location’s size, the length someone stays and damage left behind, he said, but the typical price is about $1,500. HRHA has spent as much as $6,000 for heavily smoke-infested units, Wong said.

The agency fields smoking complaints from residents, he said, but the national trend with government-assisted housing also is to prohibit it.

In a June 2012 announcement, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and health advocates urged public housing authorities to adopt no-smoking policies.

“A healthy home is a smoke-free home,” said Jon Gant, director of HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, in the announcement. “If we’re serious about promoting healthy living conditions in federally assisted housing, then we have to get serious about promoting smoke-free housing.”

Residents will have a chance to respond to the local policy, Miller said.

“If we make major policy decisions, it’s always our interest to get feedback,” he said. “I’m particularly [hopeful] that we find meaningful cessation opportunities for clients if we go down this road. I think this is a big step for a lot of people.”

Wong notes it will be “difficult” for HRHA staff members who smoke, too.

“It’s not something we are taking lightly,” he said.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or