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I-Team: Boston Housing Authority Not Enforcing Smoking Ban

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – A year ago the Boston Housing Authority made headlines when it banned smoking at all of its properties, but the I-Team found the tough new policy, which even threatens tenants with eviction, is off to an unhealthy start.

“They just keep on smoking here and they don’t care,” said Marie O’Brien, a non-smoker battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who lives in a Boston Housing Authority apartment in West Roxbury.

O’Brien was hopeful when the BHA said it was going to be smoke-free, but now says nothing has changed.

“I smell it coming through my doors; last night I smelled it coming up through my floor here,” she said.

Asked if tenants are abiding by the new no-smoking rules, O’Brien said: “No, they’re not.”

And that is exactly what the I-Team found.

At BHA properties all over the city, our cameras captured tenants smoking away — in doorways, on stoops and inside an enclosed entryway at the Foley Apartments in South Boston — all in violation of the BHA’s new rule: No smoking inside any buildings or within 15 feet around them.

We asked one BHA tenant in Dorchester if she smoked inside her apartment. “Yes, I’m not afraid to say that,” she said. “They know this. They know that people aren’t going to stop smoking.”

The truth is, when it comes to large urban housing authorities, Boston is out front on this important health issue.

We assumed BHA executives would acknowledge this is a period of transition, and that there are going to be violations.

But that’s not what they told us.

“As far as I’m concerned, we run smoke-free public housing,” said Bill McGonagle, administrator of the BHA, which is home to 25,000 residents.

Asked if he believed all BHA properties are now smoke-free, McGonagle said: “I’m saying our policy, Joe, is that it be smoke free… I don’t know anybody that’s smoking.”

McGonagle seemed surprised when we told him the I-Team found smoking in doorways, on stoops, on porches — all within 15 feet of BHA buildings.

“That’s a problem and that’s a violation of our policy,” he said.

We also asked McGonagle about a BHA employee caught by the I-Team’s cameras smoking next a building in the Spring Street Apartments, Mary O’Brien’s development in West Roxbury.

“Very simply, we are holding BHA employees to the same standards that we’re holding our residents,” McGonagle said.

But residents told WBZ those standards are pretty low because the BHA is doing little when it comes to enforcement.

“A long time ago they used to do it, but then they kinda stopped. I haven’t seen them say anything,” said one resident of BHA housing in Roslindale.

McGonagle did acknowledge the challenge of enforcing the new no-smoking policy. “I would say it is extremely difficult to enforce,” he said.

He insisted the BHA is doing all it can to enforce the smoking ban, but also said the authority has yet to issue one fine.

According to a lease provision now being signed by all residents, violating the no-smoking policy can bring fines up to $250 and possible eviction.

Mary O’Brien, however, is not satisfied. “I have cancer and I am sick and tired of breathing in second hand smoke in Boston housing,” she said.

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