Tenant leader furthers smoke-free trend in Section 8 subsidized private housing

Earlier this summer, Edna Willrich and her landlord Wendy Rist converted 99-Elm Hill into a smoke-free building.

The official smoke-free conversion for 99-Elm Hill started as a discussion between Edna Willrich, Treasurer and Assistant Director to S8ti, a section 8 tenant association, and her landlord Wendy Rist earlier this summer.  Ms. Willrich, who prefers to go by Ms. Edna, said the conversion was not difficult because smokers are not living in her building.

The majority of tenants living in Ms. Edna’s building do not smoke for special reasons: one being that recent studies have discovered severe health risks related to smoking tobacco which reportedly cause about 20% of all deaths in the country. It’s now a national concern, and evidently one for many of Ms. Edna’s elderly neighbors.

Ms. Edna doesn’t smoke and is aware that those who do, find it tremendously hard to stop this pricey habit.

“From what I understand, cigarettes today are very expensive,” Ms. Edna said. “With the money one uses to buy cigarettes, they can feed and take care of their kids.”

The Director of S8ti was inspired to act by a meeting which she attended about BHA’s plan to ban smoking from all public housing developments.

At the time, Rist was already attending the same meetings and thinking about converting her 5 properties to smoke-free buildings before Ms. Edna approached her. Soon after discussing the issue, three new tenants moving into 99 Elm Hill Avenue had to sign a non-smoking agreement.  The meetings were part of a landlord training that BHA and the Boston Public Health Commission coordinated as part of the REACH program, and three year grant initiative to improve health outcomes for BHA residents.

BHA’s smoke-free policy, which was implemented at all public housing developments on September 30, 2012, was BHA’s approach to protecting residents from health risks relating to second-hand smoke. Residents are prohibited, like they are from many public places such as bars, restaurants, and ballparks. etc., to smoke in apartments.  However, residents can access designated smoking areas that are located 15 feet away from buildings.

John Kane, BHA’s Planner and Senior program Coordinator said the elderly and disabled in many public housing developments are having the most difficulty abiding by the policy because it requires a change of behavior.

“The BHA isn’t asking anybody to stop smoking,” Kane said. “We’re just asking people who smoke to respect people who are choosing not to smoke.”

Not all of BHA properties are smoke-free.After its redevlopement into a mixed-finance public housing development, Franklin Hill  remain smoke-permitted, except one building. That building is under a special agreement with private management and BHA to be kept smoke-free. John Kane hopes that Franklin Hill can be smoke-free one day, but was rather excited to hear Ms. Edna’s legendary effort.

“This is a national trend,” said Kane. “Everybody is becoming aware of the consequences of smoking and second hand smoke. So congratulations to Ms. Edna and her landlord. They did a wonderful thing.”


| 7/27/2015 3:15:19 PM | 1 comments


Mike Wolfson
This is wonderful news! Congratulations to Ms Edna, her landlord, the BHA, and especially to the tenants who are members of S8ti, who, by organizing and acting collectively, have made many improvements to their living situation! This achievement needs to be widely publicized, and should encourage more and more public housing tenants and their supporters to work together to further improve their living conditions.
9/29/2015 12:53:22 PM
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