Demand for smoke-free housing on the rise

Signs provided by Live Smoke Free, funded by state and federal grants through Hennepin County, can be used in multiple areas of housing properties that implement smoke-free policies. (Submitted photo)
Signs provided by Live Smoke Free, funded by state and federal grants through Hennepin County, can be used in multiple areas of housing properties that implement smoke-free policies. (Submitted photo)

Wingate Apartments in New Hope is in the final stretch of implementing smoke-free policies at its four buildings, said Manager Charlene Parker.

The change makes the Wingate Apartments part of the 318 smoke-free apartment buildings in Hennepin County, according to the Live Smoke Free program, which is part of the Association for Non-Smokers Minnesota.

Live Smoke Free staff help property owners interested in smoke-free policies, which are voluntary, to survey residents for feedback and then provide lease addendums, signs and educational materials to complete the process, said program director Brittany McFadden.

“The rental market has embraced it more and more quickly,” she said.

There is a large demand for smoke-free living, and 84 percent of Minnesota residents do not smoke, according to Live Smoke Free. Property owners and management are also starting to recognize the other benefits of the smoke-free policies, including safety and the reduced costs of upkeep.

After the survey by management at Wingate Apartments, Parker said the results showed most of the residents would like their buildings to be smoke-free.

Parker chose to implement a smoke-free policy at the four Wingate buildings over time and each willing tenant signs an addendum to their lease when it expires, she said.

“They made it so simple for me,” Parker said of the Live Smoke Free program. “They gave me all the information for the lease to make sure we are properly communicating with our residents,” she said.

Smoking is not allowed in any of the apartments or common areas of buildings with a policy already, and Parker said Live Smoke Free is also helping their management designate outdoor smoking areas on the property.

Although Parker assisted one resident who does smoke with moving to a building without a policy, she said the process has gone smoothly and she hasn’t had a lot of negative feedback.

Smoke-free resources

For Live Smoke Free, the purpose of their work is to reach out to populations with a disproportionate rate of exposure to tobacco use and secondhand smoke, McFadden said.

“That does bring our focus area into housing (and) some of the neighborhoods with low-income or high-density,” she said.

The focus is on reaching cities in suburban Hennepin County, other than Minneapolis, Richfield, Edina and Bloomington, which have their own public health departments, McFadden said.

Live Smoke Free has a portion of the funding from a Statewide Health Improvement grant issued to Hennepin County last year.

Some of the funding, approved by the Legislature, was earmarked to support smoke-free housing programs, McFadden said. The funding ends in June 2013.

Live Smoke Free also has funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until 2013, which is a federal grant that can be renewed, McFadden said.

Live Smoke Free recently held an educational forum about their efforts for community members and multi-housing owners and management in Hennepin County.

The forum was funded through the county and federal grants, said Julia Wilbert, a senior health promotions specialist in the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department.

“We’re trying to reduce health disparities,” Wilbert said. “We’re hoping to get to multi-unit housing where there are higher rates of smoking and offer that resource to property managers,” she said.

“There are all kinds of tools that make it easy for the property owner,” Wilbert said.

Ongoing process at many levels

Since April, more than 30 buildings in Hennepin County with populations with a disproportionate rate of tobacco use or exposure to secondhand smoke have implemented smoke-free policies, according to McFadden.

Live Smoke Free is also currently assisting more than 30 multi-housing property owners with the policy adoption process, she said.

Hornig Companies, with about 3,000 multi-housing units in buildings throughout the metro area, started a smoke-free policy at Hummingbird Cove in Plymouth on Nov. 1.

“We’ve implemented it at lots of sites, and it’s an ongoing process,” said Hornig Companies Portfolio Manager Bernadette Hornig.

They used the resources from Live Smoke Free, she said, and only had two people move out from Hummingbird Cove to a property where smoking is allowed. Hummingbird Cove is just one building.

Hornig Companies uses its properties with multiple buildings to provide some that are smoke-free and some that are not. “Our goal is to implement the smoke-free policy as widely as we think we can implement it,” she said.

While the goal is not to exclude any tenants from living at their properties if they do smoke, Hornig said the policy has more pros than cons.

“I am sure it sounds controversial … I think people nowadays are used to not smoking in public places,” she said. “A lot of our tenants that smoke told us that they don’t even smoke in their apartment anyway. It was really something that did not cause a lot of conflict between our residents.”

If requested, the Live Smoke Free program also has smoking cessation materials to help people as well.

“Some people actually chose to stop smoking in their home,” said Brenda Hvambsal, the director of marketing at Steven Scott Management. Thirteen of the company’s 70 properties in the metro area are smoke free, Hvambsal said.

“Certainly for us it’s been helpful for the air quality in the building,” she said.

Smoke-free policies save property owners on the costs of painting and refurbishing apartments and they are favorable from a safety standpoint as well, Hvambsal said.

Steven Scott Management also has properties where smoking is allowed, but the smoke-free option has becoming a popular request, she said.

Wilbert and McFadden said their efforts on smoke-free policies would be ongoing. Live Smoke Free has been working with Hennepin County since 2009.

“Since this work started, there are a number of apartment management companies that have really jumped on board with this issue and make significant portions of their housing portfolio that are smoke free,” McFadden said.

“I think a lot of property owners are surprised to realize this many people would like to live in a smoke-free building,” McFadden said.