Public housing going smoke-free
Lake County ban extends to apartments
Warren Township resident Betty A. Smith has been pushing for years to ban smoking in her senior public housing complex. On May 1, Lake County became the largest housing authority in Illinois to outlaw smoking throughout entire public housing buildings, including tenants’ own apartments. (Shaun Sartin/For the Chicago Tribune)
After years of raising concerns, the 83-year-old lung cancer survivor and former smoker has literally found herself breathing more easily now.
On Sunday, seven Lake County-owned senior public housing complexes, including Warren Manor in Gurnee, where Smith has lived for more than 20 years, went smoke-free.
"She was being hurt and harmed physically because of the people smoking in her apartment complex," said David Northern, the Lake County Housing Authority's executive director. "We stepped up in order to protect our residents."
With remaining county-owned public housing scheduled to fall under the ban on May 1, 2012, Lake County's housing authority has become the largest in Illinois to outlaw smoking throughout entire buildings, including tenants' own apartments, Northern said.
The new rule is rooted in the concept that everyone has the right to breathe clean, safe air. According to a survey of Housing Authority residents in December 2008, 44 percent of those who do not allow smoking in their homes reported that tobacco smoke still drifted inside.
That's what prompted Smith to contact state lawmakers and housing officials about banning smoking inside the complex. She said smoke from neighbors seeped into her apartment regularly. The smell lingered to the point that visitors would complain.
"In my day, when I started smoking, they didn't tell you it was bad for the lungs," said Smith, who quit her 2 1/2-pack-a-day habit in 1996 and learned she had a lung tumor about two years later. "I don't want anyone to suffer like I've suffered."
Comparing the smoking ban to a no-pet policy, Northern said the agency is "really proud to say we're making these steps to protect a class of residents."
It's not a trend spreading rapidly to nearby housing authorities, however.
The DuPage Housing Authority does not own any public housing, so a smoking ban isn't an option there, an official said.
The Housing Authority of Cook County has not prohibited smoking, and the issue is not under consideration right now, spokeswoman Avis LaVelle said.
The Chicago Housing Authority does not have a smoking ban in its traditional public housing. But four authority buildings do have a nonsmoking component, said spokesman Matthew Aguilar.
Two rehabbed senior buildings, including one that isn't occupied yet, have smoke-free policies that extend to the inside of residents' units, as do two relatively new mixed-income communities, Aguilar said. At one complex, smokers who lived there before the ban took effect in 2010 are still allowed to smoke inside their homes.
No such reprieve was given to Lake County public housing residents who smoke, such as Sharon Eddington.
Eddington has lived at Shiloh Towers in Zion for about 10 years. She said she never smoked in common areas, only in her apartment, and never heard any complaints from neighbors.
"When I moved here … I was well aware I could smoke here, or I wouldn't be living here," she said. "I'm not doing anything against rules that were set up when I came here."
Eddington, 67, said she thinks the complex has more pressing problems, such as crime and vandalism, than with people smoking, and believes she should be able to smoke in her own home if she chooses.
The Housing Authority has worked with the Lake County Health Department since 2008 to help establish the ban, educate people about it and offer help to those who want to quit smoking, said community health specialist Barbara de Nekker.