Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing: A Bottom Line Success Story

As the 2006 Surgeon General’s report described, there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, especially indoors where people spend up to 90% of their time.  Secondhand smoke contains harmful chemicals and increases the risk of heart disease in exposed non-smokers by 20-30%.  In multi-unit housing, secondhand smoke can travel through hallways, ventilation systems, fixtures and even through cracks between units.  Prohibiting indoor smoking prevents exposure to secondhand smoke, gives smokers additional motivation to quit, changes the norms around smoking, and promotes healthy living.    

Not only do public health organizations & advocates recognize the benefits of smoke free policy, but now the housing industry has gotten on board.  During 2018, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) initiated a policy to be implemented by July 31st mandating that all HUD public housing agencies’ indoor spaces, plus an outdoor building perimeter of 25 feet, are required to be smoke-free. Also, funders for affordable housing, such as the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency recently incorporated it into its funding criteria for the Low Income Housing Tax Credits program.  Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh also included smoke free policy in its best practices for its Affordable Housing Program Implementation Plan, recommending the implementation of smoke-free policy for all new and existing multi-unit housing in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

HUD and these loan agencies, in their forward-thinking move, not only looked at the health benefits of smoke-free policy, but also the positive economic impact of smoke-free living.  The risk of smoking-related fires is reduced, resulting in a savings on insurance rates for the buildings.  A smoker’s apartment may sustain a wide range of property damage, including burns and residue on carpets, walls, tiles, curtains, counter-tops, blinds, appliances and fixtures. Thus, the turnover of a heavy smoker unit can cost 6 times more than that of a non-smoker. These costs are reduced by smoke-free policy.

Smoke free policies have additional benefits. As Shanice Kiett, Social Service Coordinator from John Fox Towers, the 273 unit apartment in Philadelphia, describes after their recent smooth, smoke free policy implementation, residents are “more active and social in the building.” Another local multi-unit housing provider that recently adopted smoke-free policy for its large portfolio (>1,000 units) has reported that the policy implementation was “much easier” than “anticipated.” 

Regional and national studies indicate that there is a growing demand for smoke-free housing.  In an effort to increase the availability of healthier and smoke-free housing, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health is offering FREE technical assistance and $2,500 grants for qualified multi-unit housing providers who are interested in adopting smoke-free policy. 

For more information, contact Muna Tefferi, Program & Policy Analyst at or call 215.685.5690.

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