AYER -- Public housing on Pond Street is likely to adopt a no-smoking policy, a hot-button issue facing housing authorities across the state.
The 61-unit residential complex currently allows residents to smoke in their individual apartments or outside, but restricts smoking in common areas, said Ayer Housing Authority Director Ken Martin.
But the restriction does not mean all are content or that all are complying with existing rules. One resident's friend wrote a letter to the Ayer Housing Authority in February calling for changes to the smoking policy.
"She is afraid to say anything to the authorities, so I will for her sake and the sakes of your other residents and visitors because I am well aware of the problem, too, even in the halls and public places of the buildings," wrote Richard J. Jones of Boston.
"Why are people allowed to smoke everywhere, including their apartments and public places, in Ayer Public Housing?" he asked in the letter. "It may be because when the Pond Street Apartments were built over 30 years ago, not enough was known about the deadly dangers of smoking, especially secondhand smoking."
The housing is reserved for seniors and those with disabilities, Martin said.
Smoking is banned at Ayer's other public housing on Pleasant Street because the housing is a federal development, he said. The state has not encouraged a no-smoking policy for public housing until now, he said, and the Ayer Housing Authority believes it needs to be done. Martin said the housing authority will absolutely be adopting a no-smoking policy.
"Our argument has always been, 'If we can do it on the federally funded complexes, why we can't we do it on the state?'" he said.
Statewide, housing authorities can choose to go smoke-free but will not receive backing from the state if the issue is taken to court, Martin said. But now, the state is in the process of developing guidelines for smoke-free housing, he said, so that any possible litigation would receive support from the state.
"They have now come to our way of thinking that smoking is not good," he said.
Despite the complaint, Martin said he does not think smoking is a big problem at Pond Street. He said he has not received any complaints before.
"What's happening I think is the younger seniors are more attuned to not smoking," he said.
Martin said the process to move to nonsmoking will take about a year, requiring a resident survey and the creation of a staff and tenant committee to formulate the policy. The housing board will then have to approve the policy, which will go back to tenants for further comments. If the tenants are unhappy with the policy, it will go back to the board for further review.
"It's an involved process because we have to provide resources and education for it, because we're going to have a few people who really don't want to give up smoking and it's going to be very difficult for them to do that," he said.
Matthew Hicks, a resident at Pond Street Housing for about three years, said he is bothered by smoking in the summertime when he tries to sit outside.
But the problem is not so bad that people are walking down the hallways with a cigarette in their mouth, he said.
"If they do it, they do it in their room," he said.
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