‘There Will Be Evictions’: New Smoking Ban Roils Public Housing’s Oldest Residents

The 2 million people living in public housing have a new rule to follow: no smoking cigarettes, pipes, cigars or vapes within 25 feet of their building.

When the Obama administration first proposed the rule, more than 600 agencies out of 3,300 had already made public housing units smoke-free. But there is one population that public housing directors say has been slow to adjust to the rule: elderly residents, who are more likely to lack mobility and to have smoked for a longer period of time.

“It’s a big shift. It’s a change in their environment. When you’re used to a routine, change takes time,” says Lakeesha James-Smith, elder services coordinator for the Bloomington Housing Authority in Bloomington, Ill.

If residents are caught breaking the rule, there are a number of steps before a tenant could get evicted: a three-strike warning, a 30-day “remedy period” in which the landlord and tenant try to work out the disagreement and then a “grievance period” for a tenant to appeal an upcoming eviction. There are unlikely to be evictions for smoking violations until the end of the year, according to Jim Armstrong, policy analyst for the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association. In the meantime, housing authorities have been issuing warnings.

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