Big Brother, it appears, will be coming into your home soon – at least if you live in a property run by the Fort Wayne Housing Authority.
According to a draft letter that will be sent to residents of Housing Authority property, the agency plans to add an addendum to its leases, prohibiting smoking in all its buildings, individual units and grounds, starting Jan. 1.
Residents will be required to sign a copy of the addendum.
Maynard Scales, executive director of the Housing Authority, confirmed that the ban is coming.
Actually, its been three years in the planning, Scales said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been pushing housing authorities all over the country to impose such bans, Scales said. Of the 3,000 or so housing authorities in the country, 50 percent to 60 percent have imposed similar bans, he said.
The board resisted, Scales said. It wanted to give people time to adjust to it. HUD said we must consider it.
There is a money issue, Scales said. It is more expensive to turn over a property that has been occupied by a smoker. Apartments are painted when residents change, but an apartment that was occupied by a smoker has to get two coats of paint, he said.
The policy isnt sitting well with some residents.
Gail Surfus is a resident of Whispering Oaks, a relatively new complex on Decatur Road that rents only to people age 62 or older.
I dont understand, Surfus said. Cigarettes are legal. Were not doing anything illegal. This is our home, and just because HUD subsidizes the rent (residents have to pay 35 percent of their income in rent) doesnt mean they can tell us how to live.
June Otalski doesnt smoke, but she doesnt like the policy any more than Surfus. She doesnt want to sign the addendum because theyre taking away part of her freedom.
Theyre telling you what you can do in your own home, said Otalskis daughter, Deb Jones, who doesnt live with her mother. You cant even let family members visit if they smoke.
Lady Parker, who also lives in the complex, said she smokes but not in her apartment.
I do it on the porch, and I wont even be able to do that, she said.
Surfus also mentioned a woman in her 70s who lives in one of the apartments.
Shes been smoking all her life. She says it calms her down, Surfus said. How is she supposed to quit?
The addendum refers to the dangers of secondhand smoke, but that argument doesnt make sense to many residents because they live alone. Theyre affecting only themselves. They wont even be able to smoke in their cars, Surfus said.
Where does it stop, the women asked?
Scales indicated the Housing Authority isnt going to be heavy-handed about this. If a resident refuses to sign the addendum, when their lease expires they will be approached and told of the policy. If they still refuse to sign it they will be asked to leave, but they will be given time – three or four months – to find another place to live, he said.
One can see the viewpoint of the residents. Yes, their rents are subsidized, but they still pay rent. The apartments are their homes, and we have a government agency telling people how to live their lives.
Granted, landlords have the right to set policies for their properties. They can forbid pets, say they dont want people smoking in their buildings, forbid loud parties and so on, and charge security deposits.
Thats a bit of power you get when you plunk down the cash and become the owner of an apartment or house.
But when the government steps in, it does begin to look like Big Brother.
Of course, residents who dont like it can move, but as Surfus explained, Do you think wed be living here if we had any money?