Smokers will have to walk out into the rain and snow to enjoy a cigarette next year at three of the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority complexes.
Smoking will be banned indoors — even in the renters’ own apartments — in April.
Executive Director Richard Homenick hopes to eventually expand the ban to every SMHA facility. For now, it will start at Ten Eyck, Lincoln Heights and Schonowee Village, the housing complexes for the elderly and disabled.
While many residents have complained of smoke drifting into their apartments and filling the hallways of their buildings, the ban is not universally popular.
“It sucks. Because I am a smoker,” said resident Kim Clark, as she stood on the sidewalk to smoke. “I feel it’s not right. Just because there’s non-smokers — what about us smokers? When you rented me an apartment, you didn’t say I couldn’t smoke. It’s not fair.”
She argued that nonsmokers were oversensitive and exaggerated the amount of cigarette smoke they encountered. The halls aren’t “filled” with smoke, she said.
“That’s not true. I know it’s not a true. Almost no one smokes in the hallway,” she said.
Homenick said smoke from apartments flows into the hallways, particularly when residents prop open their doors, a common practice.
But Clark quickly learned that some nonsmokers are no longer willing to put up with smoke. A friend who was keeping her company outside said he was fully in support of the ban.
As she turned to him in shock, Miguel Oquendo said he was worried about the health effects of secondhand smoke.
“I don’t smoke,” he said. “If someone smokes, the secondhand smoke hurts me more.”
And, he said, the smoke hits him when he walks through hallways to his apartment.
“It’s like it slaps me. I hate smoke,” he said. “I like the nonsmoking [rule].”
Homenick said there are many more like Oquendo than Clark in the housing complex.
“We held community meetings, more than one. I conducted them personally,” he said. “We found a majority are anxious to have it.”
The ban was first proposed after a tenant complained about the smoke, he added.
“Down here, we have common hallways and ventilation. It’s especially prone to drifting from one location to another,” he said. “They’re just tired of being exposed to secondhand smoke. It’s a common complaint.”
He said the ban was “no more” than a rule against loud music — although this would be the same as banning music altogether.
But he also said the ban would improve fire safety and reduce the cost of cleaning an apartment before renting it to a new tenant.
“Smoking is a common source of fires and deaths,” he said. “And the maintenance turnover is very costly, to clean a smoker’s unit. There’s so many reasons for it.”
Over the next six months, residents will be encouraged to take free classes on how to quit smoking. Homenick will also determine where residents can smoke — he wants to create an outdoor location, but he said an “elaborate” structure would be a waste of taxpayer money.
“We want to take into account tenants’ mobility as much as possible,” he added.
He could simply ban smoking from the property, forcing smokers to stand on the public sidewalks, he said.
But he acknowledged that could lead to widespread disobedience during rainstorms and blizzards.
He’s looking into inexpensive shelters, perhaps similar to a bus station shelter.
“What I really hope is — and I know this will never happen 100 percent — is people saying, ‘You know what? I’m quitting,’ ” he said.
For those who don’t quit, Homenick acknowledged that it won’t be easy to get smokers to stop smoking in their own homes.
“It certainly will be somewhat of a challenge,” he said.
But he and others emphasized that the ban will help nonsmokers.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, exposure to secondhand smoke increases a nonsmoker’s chance of getting heart disease and lung cancer. The smoke can also trigger an asthma attack, and HUD says elderly residents are especially vulnerable.
For nonsmokers, the smoke is also distasteful.
“One of the chief complaints I hear from other tenants is tobacco smoke from neighbors seeping into their apartment, making it difficult to breathe and enjoy clean air in their own home,” said Joan Johnson, a resident of Ten Eyck Apartments and a member of the SMHA Board of Commissioners. “I’m thrilled that the authority is taking this step to improve our health.”
In a press release, Mayor Gary McCarthy agreed.
“For almost a decade now, New Yorkers have been able to enjoy working in smoke-free spaces. It’s only right that these residents can now breathe tobacco-free air in their own homes,” he said.
The Schenectady MHA is the largest public housing authority in the Capital Region to ban smoking. More than 230 housing authorities in 27 states have also banned smoking, including Gloversville and Hoosick Falls.
The ban in Schenectady affects 412 units of the 1,018 units managed by the Schenectady MHA.