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King County Housing Authority to ban smoking Dec. 1 in public housing units

The King County Housing Authority will ban smoking starting Dec. 1 at its housing complexes, including Birch Creek on Kent
The King County Housing Authority will ban smoking starting Dec. 1 at its housing complexes, including Birch Creek on Kent's East Hill.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO

The King County Housing Authority will ban smoking in all its public housing units starting Saturday, Dec. 1, including locations in Kent and Auburn.

“Everyone benefits from a smoke-free living environment," said Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority in a media release. "The smoke-free policy is aimed at protecting nonsmokers – especially children, the frail elderly, and residents who suffer from asthma − from breathing in secondhand smoke. Not only is this an important health measure, it will enhance the safety of our communities from the perspective of fire risk. It also saves the Housing Authority – and therefore taxpayers − money spent to rehab apartment units when a smoker moves.”

The public housing complexes in Kent include Birch Creek, Cascade Apartments and Valli Kee Homes. The Auburn communities include Burndale Homes, Firwood Circle, Green River Homes, Gustaves Manor, Plaza 17 and Wayland Arms.

The ban will apply to the agency’s 3,366 public housing units and common areas throughout the county. It builds upon a pilot program started in 2008 which banned smoking at three properties with 222 units. The second phase followed in 2011, encompassing an additional 14 properties and 884 units. With this final phase, some 8,434 individuals, including 2,091 seniors and 2,610 children, will be protected from secondhand smoke.

According to the World Health Organization, secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which are known carcinogens. Secondhand smoke and its hazardous chemicals remain in carpets, on floors and walls, etc. and continue to expose residents and KCHA employees to harmful health effects.

The only way to fully protect individuals from exposure to secondhand smoke is to eliminate smoking in indoor spaces. Multifamily housing is the leading cause of secondhand smoke exposure.

“Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death, and we applaud the Housing Authority for taking this action to reduce secondhand smoke exposure in vulnerable populations, including children and infants,” said Dr. Jim Krieger, chief of chronic disease & injury Prevention at Public Health Seattle – King County. “Smoke travels through vents, under doors, and through electrical outlets. Walls and doors don’t stop the airborne toxins in tobacco smoke.”

The costs of secondhand smoke are not limited to concerns about disease. Exposure also imposes economic costs on individuals, the Housing Authority and society as a whole. These include primarily direct and indirect medical costs as well as productivity losses. In addition, apartment homes where smoking is permitted incur higher renovation and cleaning costs on turnover, increased risk of fire, and may experience higher insurance premiums.

KCHA’s smoke-free initiative has its roots in a 2009 recommendation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that urged housing authorities nationwide to implement no-smoking policies in their public housing units.

A majority of residents support the move to smoke-free housing. Results of a survey conducted in November 2011 indicated that 88 percent of public housing residents wanted to live in smoke-free housing. KCHA’s two Resident Advisory Committees also endorsed the move to go smoke-free. KCHA estimates that about 17 percent of households in public housing have a family member who smokes.

Lawrence Kiongo lives in Seola Gardens in White Center with his wife and four children. He strongly supports KCHA’s move to filter out smoking in public housing apartments and common areas.

“Why should the nonsmoking residents of public housing have to endure the health risks of secondhand smoke?” Kiongo said. “Smoking is a waste of money, makes the grounds and environment dirty, and is a health hazard to me and my family. It’s not good for children to see people smoking – it might get them into the habit. I am very happy that KCHA has made this policy.”

Significantly, the policy does not prohibit individuals who smoke from living in KCHA managed properties. It does, however, forbid anyone from smoking inside an apartment or common area such as a community room, lobby, community park, garden area or playground. At mid-rise complexes, smokers must be outside and at least 25 feet from building entrances.

At garden-style family communities, residents are free to smoke on their patio and/or unit entrance area. Residents are encouraged to refrain from smoking anywhere children are present. Every KCHA resident must sign an addendum to his lease agreeing to comply.

KCHA administers a range of quality affordable rental and home ownership programs in the Puget Sound region. The Authority serves more than 18,000 families and elderly and disabled households on a daily basis.

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