City stops smoking

Residents at Midtown’s Comstock building forced to quit or move out

One of the last city-owned public-housing buildings to allow smoking is about to put out the cigarettes.

The Comstock high-rise, located on the corner of 18th and K streets, until recently allowed residents to puff in its units. But city council and the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved a public-housing nonsmoking policy last January, and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency intends to prohibit indoor smoking in the building next year.

“They’re stepping on our toes and violating our rights of smoking,” said Dean Storey, a resident of the Comstock building and longtime smoker. “If we do not quit smoking, or if we’re caught smoking in our apartments, they’re talking about eviction.”

Effective January 1, all incoming Comstock residents will sign a lease agreement that abides the new nonsmoking policy; all current residents will be asked to sign on with their next recertification.

Some long-standing residents, though, are anything but happy. “Now, my civil rights are being violated,” Storey argued.

But Nick Chhotu, SHRA assistant director of public housing, says this is not a civil-liberties issue. “The secondhand smoke carries throughout the building,” he explained, “and has affected those residents that have respiratory [problems], or minor children.”

In December 2006, the city and the county passed resolutions encouraging multifamily property owners to designate all units as nonsmoking. That same year, the Resident Advisory Board, in compliance with the public housing authority, conducted surveys of 644 residents at 17 public-housing-authority properties.

“What we found from these surveys was that over 75 percent of our residents wanted to adopt a nonsmoking policy,” said Chhotu, who explained that 121 housing authorities across the nation have adopted nonsmoking-facility policies.

About 40 percent of public-housing residents are minors, according to Chhotu, and another 20 percent are elderly, demographics highly susceptible to the ramifications of secondhand smoke. This is not to mention the clean-up expenses for smoking units, which he claims can cost up to $5,000.

“Smoking is the No. 1 cause for fires in our units,” Chhotu added.

With a majority of public-housing residents on disability or government assistance, the resources to quit the habit are too expensive or not covered by insurance, according to Storey.

But Chhotu says there’s a solution: The SHRA is working with two county nonprofits, RESPECT and Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, to provide training, counseling and support for smokers. “We’ve had a lot of residents that have wanted to quit smoking,” Chhotu explained.

Soon, they may get the chance to prove it.