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Case Study: Housing Authority of the City of Austin

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Winter 2016   


Case Study: Housing Authority of the City of Austin

The experience of local PHAs illustrates the opportunities and challenges that indoor smoking bans present. For example, the smoke-free housing policy that the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) implemented on September 1, 2015, demonstrates how PHAs can respond to residents’ concerns and collaborate with public health agencies to reduce smoking and the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. HACA began by surveying residents in 2013. The results, which were consistent with other studies nationwide, indicated that most of the approximately 4,300 residents in its 1,800 housing units “are non-smokers but are bothered by tobacco smoke entering their home” and that “a majority of tenants prefer smoke-free housing,” including the “significant percentage” who face “asthma and/or other health conditions like lung disease and cancer.”1 Residents also “showed support for health programming and interest in smoking cessation assistance.”2 Unlike the proposed HUD rule, the policy that grew out of these concerns extends to electronic cigarettes as well.

HACA makes clear that its policy “is focused on the act of smoking, not the smoker.”3 This approach has two significant implications: first, the enforcement structure punishes violations at the household level rather than at the tenant level, and second, the policy takes steps to avoid stigmatizing smokers and to connect them to services that can help them remain in their homes. After signing a lease addendum that certifies that they understand the smoking ban and that violation may be grounds for eviction, residents receive a written warning after the first violation, a written letter of lease violation after the second, and probation after the third. Each of these notices comes with a referral for cessation services. The fourth violation triggers a 30-day notice of lease termination; however, the agency notes that it “may suspend [the] lease termination process if the family agrees to attend a HACA approved smoking cessation class and present HACA with a certificate of completion and a signed commitment to comply with HACA’s Smoke-free Housing Policy.”4

Reinforcing the fact that indoor smoking bans are a crucial step in a larger public health effort, HACA and many other PHAs not only provide resources for smoking cessation but do so in ways specifically targeted to the needs of public housing residents. In Austin, a partnership with an integrated care clinic has resulted in free weekly smoking cessation classes at several communities. Attendees receive information about creating a plan to quit smoking, using nicotine replacement therapy or other medications, and dealing with the urge to smoke, as well as other resources.5

  1. Housing Authority of the City of Austin. 2015. "Austin Housing Authority Extinguishes Smoking in Public Housing Units," press release, 1 September.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Housing Authority of the City of Austin. 2015. "Smoke-Free Housing Policy" ( Accessed 16 December 2015.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.


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The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.