NORTH ADAMS -- North Adams Housing Authority is moving toward a policy to ban smoking by May in housing it provides for low-income individuals and families.
Low-income tenants would be required to smoke in designated areas, which could include an outdoor gazebo.
Tenants will be asked to sign a contract addendum in the coming months that would prohibit smoking, Executive Director Jennifer Hohn said. The policy is still being written.
"We're drafting up a policy to deal with non-compliance issues," said Hohn.
He said the adverse health impact was the primary force driving the policy change. The Housing Authority provides housing at 306 units at four sites.
"It's better for the units not to endure years and years of smoke," Hohn said. "It is for child safety and safety for the staff."
Smoking bans have been widely implemented across New England but relegated largely to public areas.
North Adams Housing Authority isn't the only agency considering a smoking ban. Pittsfield Housing Authority, which manages 765 state and federal housing units, is examining a policy that would ban smoking in units, said Sharon LeBarnes, the authority's director of administration and finance.
Hohn said that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has urged local agencies to adopt smoke-free policies. There are no penalties for agencies that fail to implement a policy yet, but Hohn said that the agencies
"HUD is strongly encouraging a smoke-free [environment] in the units," Hohn said. "It will benefit the health and safety of [the tenants] but also [keep children from] breathing in the smoke every day."
Earlier this year Hohn said that a survey was administered to test the waters with tenants. There were 164 responses, and 120 said they would be receptive to a policy change.
Forty-four households responded that the smoke-free policy would be a significant challenge. Tenants have notified her that they could be moving out, but Hohn said through December there haven't been any tenants that have relocated because of the smoking ban.
Hohn said that HUD advises for 98 percent of units be occupied, but she said that she was not concerned about the associated risk. She also said that a year's notice is ample time for tenants to relocate.
"There's a lot of need out there due to the economy," Hohn said.
Besides the health benefits for tenants, neighboring tenants, and staffers, Hohn said that the policy change would expedite apartment repairs when tenants move out.
Three public forums have been hosted so far this year. Hohn said that another will be hosted closer to the implementation date.
There has been a gazebo constructed near a high-rise building on Ashland, and another will be created near a building on Spring Street.