KC prohibits smoking in public housing

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Housing Authority is drawing both praise and anger for its decision to ban smoking in all public housing, beginning July 1.

The policy, which will prohibit smoking indoors and in outdoor areas of the complexes, affects more than 1,700 residential units and about 5,000 adults and children, The Kansas City Star reported.

Donovan Mouton, chairman of the Housing Authority board, says he expected much more opposition but the authority heard from more nonsmokers who favored the idea.

“It was surprising,” Mouton said. “We have been hearing from people, nonsmokers, who were worried about the secondary smoke, especially among our seniors.”

But some residents are angry about the policy and the short time frame they have been given to quit. An estimated 40 percent of the public housing residents smoke.

“I want the right to smoke in my apartment. That’s the bottom line,” said Juia Leggett, who lives with her husband, also a smoker, in the TB Watkins development.

Residents can seek a six-month extension from the July 1 deadline but must quit smoking in their units by Jan. 1, 2015.

Edwin Lowndes, Kansas City Housing Authority executive director, said the goal is to help residents stop an unhealthy habit, for their sakes and for nonsmokers.

“Our objective is to help them be compliant,” he said. “We want a safe, healthy environment.”

Leggett, who cares for her disabled husband, said she found out about the policy when a notice was put on her door about a month ago. She pays $405 monthly rent and had no idea “that they would try to pull something this ludicrous.”

The Public Housing Resident Council, which represents the tenants, endorsed the policy but thought residents would be given more time to quit, said Martha Allen, council president.

“I have concerns for the people because it’s easy to say, ‘Don’t smoke,’ but some people have smoked 40 and 50 years,” Allen said. “To stop them right away … we need more time for that.”

Mouton said the board will monitor the policy’s impact and can make adjustments if needed. Smoking cessation information and classes will be provided.

“Public housing is a federally subsidized benefit, and we can implement reasonable rules,” he said. “The health piece is the most important. The smoker here is impacting the nonsmoker here.”

Lowndes said smoking will be treated as a lease violation. The first two violations can result in a warning but the third could cause a lease termination, although residents will be allowed to appeal. It may be possible to move smokers who truly can’t quit into other properties where it is still allowed, he said.

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