Side Note

Banning smoking in public housing is cruel and unnecessary

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officially banned smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes in public housing units across the U.S. Tuesday. If caught smoking once, a resident has to attend an “informal resolution meeting,” according to Gothamist, and multiple violations could lead to eviction.

HUD has insisted that the smoking ban is not about clearing space for more families and that it could save on healthcare costs, but even so, evicting people for otherwise legal activities like smoking feels cruel and unnecessary in a dystopic housing market that has seen housing prices soar to all-time highs in the majority of the country.

The ban, which was first rolled out in 2016 under the Obama administration, also follows epidemic-level eviction rates. In cities like New York, 25,000 families are vying to find homes in the only 1,050 available public units. In Los Angeles, residents have waited as much as 13 years to even apply for public housing. Meanwhile, HUD has slashed $8.8 billion from its public housing budget, meaning that people kicked out of their homes for smoking cigarettes are unlikely to find a place to live elsewhere. Because people who smoke are also more likely to be elderly and mentally ill, the smoking ban seems to target the most vulnerable people in public housing.

North Charleston, South Carolina has the highest eviction rate in the nation — 16.5 percent of all renters there have received eviction notices — and as Don Cameron, director of the Charleston Housing Authority, told the Post and Courier, “A number of our senior residents smoke, and it would be a hardship for them.” Noting that he has struggled to find a way to enforce the rule, he said, “We thought it would be insensitive to force them out of their apartment, around the corner or around the street.”