An addiction to smoking may soon get some Burlington residents kicked out of their homes. A new smoking ban at a few of the city's subsidized housing complexes has resident smokers upset.
The policy change is part of a national movement headed by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make low-income housing a healthier place for all its residents.
"I've been smoking about 50 years. It's hard to quit," said Gloria Candido, Decker Towers resident.
But Candido may be forced to quit, or give up her home.
As of November 1, Decker Towers, Burlington's subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled, implemented a no smoking policy indoors and out.
"To smoke we're telling them they need to leave our property. Essentially they need to go out to the street," said Paul Dettman of the Burlington Housing Authority.
These new regulations have folks who live in the building divided.
"The dogs in Vermont are treated better than us right now," said Sherry Forte.
But Jackie Allen is a non-smoking resident and says she's thrilled with the policy change.
"I absolutely love it. Before you couldn't sit out there without five to 10 people immediately lighting up. I would have to leave because I can't take the smoke."
The Burlington Housing Authority says it changed its policy because lighting up raises serious health and safety concerns in a multi-floor building like Decker Towers. There are issues with second hand smoke and just months ago -- a fire.
"My apartment was full of smoke and it was caused by someone leaving a cigarette behind," said Allen.
These residents say if they're forced to smoke outisde, they want the housing authority to build a heated smoking shelter. Management refused.
"There's a big cost associated with doing that even if we could. You're looking at $4,000 to $5,000 for a shelter. It needs to be handicap accessible. Then there's the liability insurance and the maintenance costs," said Janet Dion, director of property management for BHA.
Housing officials says this new policy isn't meant to single out any particular population and explains that many area landlords have no smoking clauses in their leases. So like any tenant who is actively violating a lease, residents who continue to smoke on the Decker property could face eviction.
"We're not going to go out seeking it. We're going to respond primarily to complaints," Dettman said.
But Dion explained, "Three violations of the lease can put the tenants housing in jeopardy and they can be asked to leave."
Residents were warned months in advance that the rules would be changing, but many elderly residents say they can't or won't quit. Now their neighbors worry what they'll do come winter.
"I don't know what's going to happen," said Candido, "It's going to be a very difficult time for them."
The Burlington Housing Authority says it's made smoking cessation programs available to its residents for little or no cost. And it's implemented the same no smoking policy at its other two public housing facilities for the elderly. The only subsidized housing in the city that hasn't been subject to these new regulations are the family units. The city says these townhomes do not pose the same fire hazard as the multi-floor buildings.
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