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Published: Monday, 3/5/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

LMHA wants smoke-free housing

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Willis Willis
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Starting with the planned Collingwood Green facility, the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority expects to make all its public housing complexes smoke-free, as the federal government urges.

And the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department — long an advocate for smoke-free places and smoking cessation — is working with owners of other multiunit housing to do the same with their rentals.

LMHA Executive Director Linnie Willis said officials have talked about making public housing smoke-free for about 1½ years and are working with Stu Kerr, the health department’s tobacco program coordinator.

Collingwood Green, a 65-unit senior housing complex expected to open next year, was the logical place to start, since there will be no existing residents who smoke, Ms. Willis said. Having a smoke-free complex will benefit residents and staff, as well as help maintain cleanliness, she said.

“We just want to create a healthier environment,” Mrs. Willis said. “We also have to be concerned about the health of our employees.”

Public comment will be sought in coming months about making Collingwood Green smoke-free, Mrs. Willis said. LMHA officials will talk with tenants of existing public housing complexes before changes are made, and it is possible help with smoking cessation, smoking shelters, and other accommodations will be made, she said.

Mr. Kerr of the health department recently spoke to 100 landlords at a Toledo Real Estate Investors Association event about going smoke-free, and he is scheduled to address a group of apartment managers later this month.

The health department is among nine public health agencies or hospitals receiving Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grants through the Ohio Department of Health to work on smoking issues, including at least one smoke-free, multihousing unit project. It is receiving a $52,000 grant.

“We’re trying to get something done here,” Mr. Kerr said.

One question that has come up is whether making rental complexes smoke-free would violate fair housing laws, which it would not, Mr. Kerr said.

Michael Marsh, vice president of development and public relations for the Toledo Fair Housing Center, said smokers are not a protected class under the law.

Actually, a disabled person with asthma or otherwise bothered by smoking can request assistance with reasonable accommodations if living near a smoker, Mr. Marsh said. The smoker could be moved, for example, or the nonsmoker could be, he said.

And as far as the ACLU of Ohio is concerned, it is understandable that both smokers and nonsmokers want to enjoy their residences, said Gary Daniels, associate director.

Ideally, something should be worked out to satisfy both sides, such as installing air purifiers or having smoking and nonsmoking units in larger complexes, he said.

“I don’t think there’s any easy solutions with this,” Mr. Daniels said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has urged public housing authorities to go smoke-free in some or all of their units.

The LMHA this year will work with its board to identify which public housing complexes will first be transformed to smoke-free, said Mrs. Willis, the executive director. Eventually, all will be, she said.

Anna Mills, president of the Toledo Real Estate Investors Association, said time will tell how many other landlords will ban smoking in rental units.

An owner of single-family residences who also manages multiunit buildings, Ms. Mills said she is among those thinking about banning smoking in rentals.

That would make cleaning units to rent them again less costly, especially since smoke permeates carpets and draperies and coats windows with an oily film, Ms. Mills said. Smokers often leave burn marks on bathroom vanities, and they are the first to disable smoke detectors, she said.

“It’s unbelievable how much damage smoking causes,” Ms. Mills said.

But while banning smoking in rentals would be healthier for families, for example, there could be a safety issue if a parent goes outside to smoke and leaves children unattended, Ms. Mills said.

At least one Toledo area complex already is smoke-free.

Stables at Horseshoe Bend in Perrysburg, a 10-townhouse complex with rent starting at $1,100 a month, has been smoke-free since it opened a few years ago. No one has protested the complex being smoke-free, and many tenants probably wouldn’t want the smell, said Tim Gruber, owner of Ridge Stone Builders and Developers of Perrysburg.

“We haven’t had any problems,” Mr. Gruber said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.



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