Smoking will be banned from the premises of all NYCHA buildings and public housing developments across the country over the next 18 months, following a Wednesday announcement from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The rule will go into effect this winter, though individual public housing authorities will have a year and a half to set their own penalties and policies for enforcement. According to the new federal guidelines, cigarettes, cigars and pipes will not be allowed inside apartments, in administrative offices, in hallways, or within 25 feet of a public housing building.
Announcing the ban in Boston this week, HUD Secretary Julián Castro said that the goal is to reduce second-hand-smoke-related illnesses like asthma, as well as prevent fires. According to HUD, smoking causes about 100,000 fires across the country each year and is the leading cause of fire-related deaths in multifamily buildings. The advocacy group NYC Smoke-Free says that about one-third of NYCHA residents report having one or more child with asthma.
"Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, healthy home free from harmful second-hand cigarette smoke," said Castro in a statement. "HUD's smoke-free rule is a reflection of our commitment to using housing as a platform to create healthy communities. By working collaboratively with public housing agencies, HUD's rule will create healthier homes for all of our families and prevent devastating and costly smoking-related fires."
New smoking rules will eventually impact about 400,000 NYCHA residents, according to NYC Smoke-Free.
"Living free from the dangers of secondhand smoke will no longer be a luxury out of reach for New Yorkers who depend on NYCHA public housing," said NYC Smoke-Free Director Patrick Kwan in a statement. (The group has helped implement smoke-free rules in more than 8,000 luxury coop, condo, and rental units in recent years.)
HUD introduced the nation-wide ban proposal last year, but says it has been advocating individual public housing authorities to adopt a no-smoking policy since 2009. According to the agency, more than 228,000 public housing units across hundreds of authorities are already smoke free (including public housing in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albany). The ban will ultimately impact 3,100 public housing authorities.
When Queens Councilmember Donovan Richards introduced legislation to ban smoking in NYCHA buildings last fall, he addressed concerns that such a rule would result in tenant harassment at the hands of landlords or police officers. (Smoking is already banned in NYCHA lobbies and hallways.)
Smokers' rights advocates also said at the time that the prospect of a ban imperiled tenant rights. "You're taking advantage of [the tenants'] position because they can't afford a private house so they can't smoke," New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (NYC CLASH) founder Audrey Silk told the Post last fall.
Reached for comment, NYCHA confirmed that it has yet to establish an enforcement policy and said it is "too early" to comment on whether police officers might enforce the ban. In other cities, the NY Times reports, rules are enforced through a warning system and, eventually, fines and mandatory health counseling.
"We are currently reviewing HUD's rule and will work with our residents to implement a smoke-free policy aimed at reducing exposure to second hand smoke and improving the quality of life of our residents," a spokesperson added.
"We don't see this as a policy that is meant to end in a whole lot of evictions," Castro told reporters in a conference call this week. "We're confident that public-housing authority staff can work with residents so that that can be avoided."
A 2015 study found that NYC smoking rates have hit their lowest point since 2007. The most recent data shows that 13.9% of New Yorkers were smoking in 2014, down from 16.1% in 2013, or more than 1 million New Yorkers.