Disability rights advocates are raising the alarm on a new Obama Administration proposal that they worry could potentially force thousands of people with disabilities out of their federally subsidized homes.
In November, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a proposal to ban smoking in the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units, as well as the area within 25 feet of these buildings.
In public comments submitted January 19, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities urged HUD to rewrite the proposal to add several new protections for tenants with disabilities, whom they argue would be disproportionately impacted. According to statistics cited in the comments, about 48 percent of low-income people with mental illness smoke, compared to about 17.3 percent of the general population.
“The smoking ban, if implemented as proposed, will lead to countless evictions of public housing residents, especially those who have disabilities…,” the CCD stated in the letter. “HUD’s stated objective of ending homelessness will be frustrated by the creation of a fast track to eviction…HUD must include in its rule additional procedural safeguards to protect residents from evictions.”
The CCD comments call on HUD to add a variety of new due process protections to the proposal.
In particular, CCD recommends that HUD specify that tenants be allowed three warnings before smoking is considered a lease violation and create a one-year phase-in for the proposal, to give tenants time to end their smoking habits. It also recommended that the housing agencies be required to provide free smoking cessation services.
Specifically to tenants with disabilities, CCD recommends that HUD clarify that tenants have a right to request reasonable accommodations in complying with the rule.
CCD pointed to several scenarios where such accommodations would be necessary. Among its examples, CCD pointed to scenarios where people’s mobility disabilities prevent them from leaving their housing complex, or where tenants’ disabilities limit their ability to comply with traditional cessation services.
“As HUD explains in its preamble, the rule is not meant to punish smokers, rather, to improve public health by eliminating smoking,” the CCD wrote in the comments. “All of these accommodations would help HUD meet those goals.”
The National Disability Rights Network is one of seven disability rights groups that signed CCD’s public comments.
Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy agency in Washington, and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.