York, PA - When Blaine Bosserman was searching for an apartment, he stayed with his mother until he could find a building that allowed smoking.
And when he settled upon a high rise in the 400 block of East King Street owned by York's housing authority, Bosserman, 45, made sure there were no conditions in the lease that would prevent him from lighting up inside.
But a proposed ban on smoking in the York Housing Authority's 1,068 units countywide could soon force Bosserman to extinguish his cigarettes. Pending approval of the authority's board and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials plan to ban smoking in authority buildings and within 25 feet of entrances as of Oct.
HUD, the federal department that funds the housing authority's offerings, has been strongly recommending smoke-free policies for public housing nationwide, said Richard D. Fox, the authority's executive director. The recommendation is based on research from the American Lung Association, he said.
But for a lifelong smoker like Bosserman, the ban seems unenforceable, he said. People won't stop smoking just because it's banned from the property, Bosserman said.
"I've been smoking since I was 15 years old," he said. "I'm going to seek legal action or move out...or I'll keep smoking in here until they force me out."
Many of the nearly 70 residents gathered at the White Rose Senior Center Tuesday for an information session
Residents came prepared with a barrage of questions, quickly labeling the plan discrimination against the low income and elderly. Other residents took longer to process, calling out long into the meeting.
"Wait, you mean I won't be able to smoke next to the window?" one woman cried. Another asked if he would next need permission to make love to his wife.
Resident Robert Leas waved a copy of the Constitution. The Unites States was founded by the people and for the people, he said.
Shelley Peterson, director of housing management for the authority, fielded many of the questions. Peterson, who previously worked for the Franklin County housing authority, helped usher in a similar policy there.
"There are no constitutional protections for smokers," she said. "I challenge you to find it."
Residents will not be required to quit smoking, Peterson said, and they will have the option to delay the ban. Residents can sign temporary exemptions that will allow them to smoke in their apartments until their next lease renewal, although guests in those apartments will still be prohibited from smoking, she said.
Resident Anne Coleman spoke out in favor of the policy. Coleman admitted that she is a smoker, but said ignoring the recommendation from HUD
"They've got to be realistic," Coleman said. "You can't fight the government...For the type of rent that you pay, you're blessed."
The ban will be effective in all of the housing authority's units, including its less connected, multiple family housing, such as the Parkway neighborhood. Even in buildings without shared hallways, the vents are connected, Fox said.
Parkway resident Angel Murray questioned how the ban could possibly be enforced. Murray, who is a smoker, lives with her daughter and infant granddaughter, but chooses not to smoke in the house when the baby is around.
"That's a personal decision," she said. "Not something someone said I have to do."
Authorities should have bigger concerns than cigarettes in Parkway, Murray said. Last week, Murray's neighbor was nearly struck by a stray bullet in broad daylight, she said.
"How are they going to execute that?" she asked. "They can't keep people from shooting each other."
At a glance
Resident: Why are you doing this?
Official: Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable disease. The new policy will encourage healthier lifestyles among residents, and assist other residents with breathing issues who are bothered by secondhand smoke. Additionally, units occupied by smokers cost five times more to clean for a new tenant.
Resident: How will this be enforced? Will you put censors in our homes?
Official: No sensors will be installed, but crews maintaining authority homes will be instructed to look for signs of smoking. Smell alone will not be enough to incur a violation, but the presence of ashtrays could be. Three violations will result in the resident being evicted.
Resident: Will you be paying to help us quit smoking?
Official: Social service employees of the authority have been preparing tips to help residents cope with the ban, whether they choose to quit or smoke elsewhere. They will also provide assistance with smoking cessation services.
Resident: What about Glaucoma and other medical conditions that require residents to smoke?
Official: Smoking marijuana is never permitted in public housing. Smokeless tobacco will still be permitted, but electronic cigarettes will also be banned.
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