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Warning: Smoking may cause eviction

New smoke-free policy takes effect Aug.1 for all RRHA properties, including 4,000 public housing units in city

Jeremy Lazarus | 5/4/2018, 7:30 a.m.
Residents of public housing in Richmond are facing a ban on smoking in three months.

Residents of public housing in Richmond are facing a ban on smoking in three months.

The ban will be instituted on Aug. 1 and will involve all of the buildings of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Orlando Artze, the RRHA’s interim chief executive officer, told the Free Press on Monday.

RRHA officials did not initiate the ban. Instead, they are required to institute the smoke-free policy by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that funds and oversees the government-owned units for people with low incomes.

In February 2017, just after President Trump took office, HUD published a regulation that banned smoking within 25 feet of any public housing unit.

That means no smoking within any unit, including patios, balconies, stairwells or other common areas, management offices and any building connected with public housing.

HUD left enforcement to the local public housing authorities; RRHA officials have not said how the new policy will be enforced.

However, the HUD regulation requires RRHA to incorporate the smoking ban in its leases with residents, which could make violators subject to eviction. It is unclear whether RRHA would issue warnings for first or second violations.

RRHA and other local public housing authorities across the country were given 18 months to put smoke-free policies in place, with Aug. 1 being the deadline.

“RRHA has been trying to prepare residents for this policy change,” Mr. Artze stated in response to a Free Press query. “We will be doing outreach to residents through Aug. 1 and beyond,” including providing explanatory materials.

HUD’s publication of the smoke-free regulation in the Federal Register capped the agency’s seven-year campaign to eliminate smoking in public housing to improve the health of residents and to eliminate extra maintenance costs resulting from indoor smoking.

While other Obama-era regulations have been repealed by Congress or President Trump’s administration, Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who serves as President Trump’s cabinet secretary for HUD, has made no move to repeal the smoking ban.

At least 600 public housing authorities already have imposed smoke-free policies, while hundreds like RRHA are poised to do so. Overall, 1.2 million public housing units, including the 3,900 to 4,000 in Richmond, will be affected, HUD stated.

The HUD regulation that RRHA must enforce will ban smoking of cigarettes, cigars, pipes and hookahs. The HUD regulations did not mention e-cigarettes, but RRHA could ban them as well. RRHA has yet to address that issue.

Meanwhile, RRHA is still scrambling to fix all 411 units where heating failed in whole or in part during the winter.

In an update on April 25, Mr. Artze stated that the heat has been fixed in 354 units, leaving just 57 to be completed.

“We are looking at a completion date of May 15,” Mr. Artze stated. That’s 30 days after RRHA’s self-imposed deadline of April 15.

He stated that the remaining units are taking more time to fix because workers must replace blocked water pipes that have kept radiators from working. He acknowledged that the new deadline could be missed, but said RRHA is committed to completing all the work as soon as possible.