Local federal housing going smoke free

Federal public housing in Grays Harbor County is to be smoke-free by July 1, Housing Authority of Grays Harbor County Executive Director Jerry Raines confirmed late last week.

All residents are to sign an addendum to their lease that reads “you agree not to smoke in your apartment, in common areas, or in other people’s apartments.” That includes balconies and back porches, Raines said.

Common areas and entrances will reflect state law, and smoking is prohibited within 25 feet of them, Raines and Deputy Director Lisa Boone said. The new policy covers toking marijuana as well as smoking tobacco or any other substance.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the Housing Authority with the majority of its funding, has enforced a non-smoking policy for the last few years, Raines said and Grays Harbor did not “want to be last to the party.”

The smoke-free policy affects 1,303 residents who live in 512 units: 315 units in Aberdeen, 149 in Hoquiam, 30 in Elma, and 18 in Ocean Shores.

A series of meetings held in December were sparsely attended but all residents have been sent notice and surveys in the mail and on Facebook, housing officials said. Residents were also given information about how to quit smoking and why secondhand smoke is dangerous with help from Bethany Mizushima of Grays Harbor Public Health and Phoebe Olivera from Sea Mar, Boone said.

Because they are aware of how difficult it may be for people to adapt, the policy will be enforced gradually, Raines said. “We don’t want to take away their rights” but it’s a matter of protecting public health and safety, he said.

A first violation will bring a 10-day notice to comply or vacate or face eviction; a second violation will bring the same warning; three strikes and the tenant will be evicted, he said.

Both said they will depend on eyewitness reports by residents and staff to enforce the rules, but they’ll also rely on individuals simply complying with the rule. “We have to see how it plays out,” said Boone.

The lease addendum makes clear that Housing Authority management and maintenance employees will be responsible for enforcement. It also says receptacles for residents to dispose of smoking materials will be provided. Residents also agree to make sure their guests and family are aware of the policy.

Aberdeen Housing Authority Properties for the elderly and disabled include: Skyview Manor, 30 units, at 1109 Skyview Lane; Aberdeen Manor, 130 units, 505 North F St.; and Broadway Manor, 69 units, at 101 West Second St.

Family properties in Aberdeen are: Pacific & Sunnyside Courts, 66 units, with Pacific Court in the “2500 to 2600 block of Bay and Pacific”, and Sunnyside in the 1000 block of Ash St. and Riverside III, 20 units, in the “1100 block of Arthur and Randall streets.”

Hoquiam Housing Authority properties for the elderly and disabled are: Hoquiam Manor, 40 units at 525 8th St. and Emerson Manor, 59 units, at 703 Simpson Ave.

The HAGHC family property in Hoquiam is Emerson Court, 50 units, at 307 West Karr Ave.

Elma Manor, 30 units, is for the elderly and disabled and is at 1313 West Martin St.

A pair of affordable housing facilities in Ocean Shores, called Sunset Villas, at 621 and 631 Sunset Avenue is not federally subsidized but is managed by HAGHC and will also be non-smoking.

If tenant surveys done in August of 2012 are an indication, the new policy will go down fairly smoothly, as more than 60 percent of those responded said they don’t smoke and just over 66 percent said they do not allow smoking in their home and close to 64 percent support non-smoking rules. The HAGH received a 45 percent response rate, or 230 responses.

Some of the comments by residents range from:

“It’s a free country (sic) do what we want in our own unit.”

“I think it’s a great idea(.) Smoking affects everyone and nonsmokers shouldn’t have to smell it.”

“I believe our problem with smoking is not as bad as our smoking of mary jane (marijuana is).”

“…it (is) already hard to get them to go outside…”

“smoking stinks, makes me cough”

Tenants also complained they could not open windows and doors and were uncomfortable in doorways and when children are present due to the smoking in the buildings.

According to statistics provided by the county Housing Authority, most public housing residents are under 62 years of age (82 percent), not disabled (close to 66 percent), and female (61 percent).

A “lease reminder” about use of marijuana and other drug use sent by the Housing Authority in February warned that the agency would soon implement drug testing and noted that although Washington has legalized limited use of marijuana, it “nevertheless remains an illegal drug under federal law.”

That drug testing warning created such an uproar that the Housing Authority rescinded it quickly, according to documents provided by the authority. The wording of the mandate, which concerned mandatory, unannounced inspections, was deemed too ambiguous, Raines said.

Tenants are routinely subject to announced annual inspections every year and given at least a week’s notice.

Drug paraphernalia is sometimes found in open view in apartments on some of those occasions despite the announcements. “You’d be surprised,” Raines said about how blatant some are, adding that children and other tenants have the right to feel safe in their homes. Tenants lose their lease if caught with drugs, he said. Public housing policy is “zero tolerance” for drug use, he said.

One tenant has had a lease terminated this year when drug paraphernalia was found, Boone said.

The Housing Authority was aiming at getting ahead of state law and complying with federal law with the drug testing proposal, he said.

The policy was aimed at keeping housing safe and chemical free for residents, he said.

More serious is the use of methamphetamines, he said, because the chemicals in meth can contaminate the walls just as oily pot and cigarette smoke can coat them, making cleanup an arduous and expensive task.

The Housing Authority was looking to anticipate issues that have affected public housing in Tacoma, he said. “We can’t be naive,” and assume it doesn’t happen here, Raines said.

The authority now plans to test the walls for chemicals if they discover meth has been cooked or smoked, but only after the apartment has been vacated and they have probable cause, such as smells or filed reports to think the apartment has been exposed.

The new smoke free policy does not necessarily affect the 223 county residents who ask for “housing choice” vouchers as part of a federal program that subsidizes their rent in private residences and apartments. It is up to the private landlord to decide whether or not smoking is allowed.

The Housing Authority has 203 applicants on the public housing waiting list and 1,360 who want housing choice vouchers.