At CHA Mixed-Income Sites, Owners Exempt from Smoke-Free Zones


A new federal program will soon transform the homes of public housing tenants in some mixed-income developments into smoke-free zones. But the owners of the for-sale units at the mixed-income sites can smoke all they want, according to the Chicago Housing Authority.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (from left), HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Simms and Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago CEO Joel Africk look on while CHA CEO Lewis Jordan announces new smoke-free zones at CHA sites. Photo by Mary C. Johns

Under the new pilot “Tobacco Prevention Project,” proposed by the City of Chicago and funded by the federal government, public housing residents who want to quit smoking at the CHA’s West Side Roosevelt Square mixed-income community and at three other CHA sites will be able to participate in “cessation classes” and receive counseling to help them kick the habit.

All of this will done with a portion of the $11.5 million two-year grant the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago recently received from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The West End Jackson Square mixed-income site, along with the Pomeroy and Kenmore Senior Apartments, are the sites designated as “smoke-free zones.”

At a press conference to announce the initiative, CHA offic

ials were joined by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services. RJ asked Sebelius why the initiative targeted public housing residents, and if this could be viewed as a discriminatory practice.

Sebelius said that the pilot program wasn’t entirely focused on public housing residents, but was a Chicago-wide effort with various strategies to reduce tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke as well as to help people who want to stop smoking.

“This is a proposal that came out of the City of Chicago, that came out of your local residents here and your public health officials, and it really gives some taxpayer dollars back to Chicago for an effort that makes healthier communities throughout this city,” Sebelius said.

CHA chief Lewis Jordan told RJ at the press conference that incoming public housing residents would have a choice of whether they would live in designated smoke-free zones, and wouldn’t have to sign any smoke-free pledges as part of their lease agreements.

Jordan added that the public housing tenants trained to be smoke-free advocates in their communities as well as the counselors wouldn’t act like “smoking police.”

“As we phase in new housing designated smoke free, residents will have a choice whether they would like to live there or not. If they say that they wouldn’t like to live there, there are other choices for them. But then the other part of this process is for current residents who are smokers, who will have cessation classes and counseling in ways in which we can help them kick the habit.”

Currently, 500 families live at the Roosevelt Square mixed-income housing site.

Jordan said that site was chosen for the pilot program because CHA “wanted to show off this beautiful environment.”

And in response to a fellow journalist’s question of whether the CHA was heading towards a smoking ban throughout its pubic housing stock, Jordan said, “I wouldn’t necessarily say an outright ban. But I see a day as with anything else, the encouragement and the strength of our residents not only in public housing, but in the communities in general. I do see a day when people will stand up and say, ‘You know, enough is enough. We want to really have a society and a community that is smoke-free, if those individuals choose that choice.’”

Jordan added that a public hearing would be held at some point to talk about the pilot program.

The Chicago Tobacco Project

The Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project aims to implement citywide policies to decrease tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, with concentrated efforts aimed at “specific groups at high risk for tobacco use,” according to data from the non-profit Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago provided at the April 22 press conference announcing the new initiative.

Nationally, 21 percent of people smoke. Twenty four percent of all adults in Chicago smoke, but smoking rates were higher for “vulnerable” population groups such as people with mental health issues, 63 percent of whom smoke. Forty-nine percent of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual youths are smokers, as are 35 percent of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual adults, 45 percent of food service employees, and 30 percent of active military personnel.

In the city’s Lawndale neighborhood, the smoking rate is 35 percent, according to Joel Africk, president and CEO of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

“We haven’t seen a 35 percent smoking rate in the City of Chicago since the 1960s. But when you ask the residents ‘Are you trying to quit?’ more than half of them say ‘Yes.’

“The idea here with this grant from Health and Human Services and the CDC is to train people in the community. So that when one in the community wants to quit, they don’t have to get on a bus and start calling somebody they don’t know but they can come to somebody in their community who has been trained in the best strategies to make their quit-effort succeed,” Africk said.

In an April 30 e-mail, CHA stated, “Infractions of the no smoking policy will be given reminders of the policy, referred to smoking cessation classes and be provided with information about outdoor smoking areas,” instead of being evicted.

Smoking will be prohibited within 15 feet of a building entrance that has the no smoking policy, and will apply to leaseholders of the affordable rental units. Public housing residents and the other market-rate renters who were living in the buildings before they were designated no smoking zones will be exempt from the policy.

“Only those who move into a unit after the policy is implemented will be affected,” CHA stated.

“Other housing authorities across the country have adopted no-smoking policies, and HUD encourages no smoking policies for public housing. But CHA is only testing these policies.

“This policy is presently for rental properties only. There has been some interest from the Condo/Townhouse mixed income properties regarding no smoking policies, but it has not adopted such a policy to date.”

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