As reported in the Salem News a few weeks ago, my councilor at large Tom Furey wants to ban smoking in public housing units. Smoking is already prohibited in the common areas of public housing complexes such as my own at Morency Manor, but individual tenants may light up in their own units.
This isn’t about smoking to me. I don’t smoke. Too many of my friends and colleagues do and it bothers me, however, I’ve almost never complained (except in my house or my server room.)
Two reasons why this is not a good idea: One, public housing is run by the state; it’s not clear what the city can do to regulate it. Carol MacGown, my landlord, is not optimistic:
The state agency that funds the city's public housing doesn't think the proposal is even legal, said Salem Housing Authority Executive Director Carol MacGown.
"Their feeling is that if you wanted to have a policy for all residential housing, that would be a good place to start," MacGown said. "Why would they start with the poor people? It's mean-spirited, and invoking that would have a desperate impact on handicapped people and all residents."
I’m not even sure the city could have a policy like that for residential housing. Every so often, I get a mail from the SHA offices pleading with me, and all other residents, to please, please not use candles. It’s happened from time to time that some tenant lights a candle too close to the curtains or forgets it’s lit and there is a fire.
From the language of the letters I get the SHA cannot really ban candles or lighters or matches. They will plead as hard as they might for us not to use them but they can’t ban them.
(I don’t have candles in the house. I’m a city boy with no coordination for lighting matches. I’d much rather have 10 flashlights around the house than any candle.)
The other reason, one that has hardened into a chip on my shoulder, is the idea that poor people are more immoral than the rest of us; its converse is the well-known idea “Money is the report card of Life” that a lot of Salem politicians seem to subscribe to.
In West Virginia, for example, officials want to tie Medicaid and food stamps to drug testing.
A good number of people in public housing, though, have mental illnesses and they have often self-medicated with illegal drugs and cigarettes.
Throw them out of public housing and they won’t magically vanish; they’ll be on our streets. These aren’t the hard-core homeless, but the ones who got help and did the right things to help themselves.
It’ll be a disaster.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say Furey was listening to Howie Carr.
But I know Tom, he’s a liberal (no insult, I’m one too) and a long time Ted K. fan.
I’m aware that smoking is a hard public health problem, but trampling on someone’s dignity just because they have the “wrong” habit and live in the wrong place is not good.
Welfare baiting is not what I expect from you, Tom.