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Smoke-free policy comes to county

All Housing Authority homes affected; health agency helping residents with transition

Published: Friday, June 27, 2014 11:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 27, 2014 11:48 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – Bob Gosnell thinks the DeKalb County Housing Authority's decision to make its properties smoke free is the best thing that's ever happened to Taylor Street Plaza.

"You come out here and meet people," said Gosnell, who is a resident of Taylor Street Plaza, 507 E. Taylor St. "People may live here for a long time but not talk to each other. Groups come out here and have a good time.

"But the winter may be fairly unpleasant."

The DeKalb County Housing Authority's smoke-free policy went into effect June 1 in all of its properties, which include Taylor Street Plaza, Garden Estates Apartments and Lewis Court Apartments in DeKalb, among other properties. Smoking is no longer allowed inside any of the Housing Authority's buildings.

The DeKalb County Health Department has been working with the Housing Authority to help residents through the transition as well as provide help to those interested in quitting smoking altogether. If residents do not comply with the policy, there is a tiered system in place, including fines, for violations.

"We're targeting not the smoker but the smoke itself," said Michelle Perkins, executive director of the DeKalb County Housing Authority. "It's going well and we are proud of our tenants. Smoking is a hard thing to tackle."

Melissa McAvoy, health educator for the DeKalb County Health Department, has helped with writing materials about smoking for interested residents, and earlier this year provided cessation classes for those who wanted to quit. The process to create a smoke-free policy took about a year.

Brad Rubeck, DeKalb Area Rental Association president, said the introduction of smoke-free initiatives such as this are fairly new since the Housing Authority went smoke free.

"Each property owner has the choice to make their own decisions about it," Rubeck said. "Most people were not familiar that you could take that initiative."

Britany Garcia, Mason Properties rental agent, said it is laid out in their lease for all of their properties that smoking is not allowed in the buildings.

"We don't allow it, but there are people who do it," Garcia said. "It's not an issue that comes up too often. Once they move, then we find out."

Perkins said there have been conflicting resident opinions on the new policy. She said some residents see it as an opportunity to attempt to quit, with some success stories, while others see it as a violation of their rights.

"We're not trying to punish anyone," Perkins said. "We're trying to have quality living environments."

Perkins said when the weather gets colder near the end of the year, they may have to push the policy harder as residents may want to smoke inside rather than go outdoors.

"We do recognize the significance this may have," Perkins said. "But in the end, the right thing is no smoking."

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