MCC 2006 Spirit of Collaboration Award Winner: MI Smoke-Free Apartment Initiative
About the Initiative
The MI Smoke-Free Apartment Initiative (www.MISmokeFreeApartment.org) encourages landlords to adopt smoke-free policies in their apartment buildings and assists tenants in seeking smoke-free apartments.
The project was implemented by the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit The Center for Social Gerontology through its Smoke-Free Environments Law Project (SFELP), a statewide Michigan resource for people seeking information about creating smoke-free environments. In preparation for the project, the SFELP contracted for 2004-2005 with the Michigan Department of Community Health Tobacco Section in 19 of Michigan's 83 counties in conjunction with 10 local health departments and their tobacco reduction coalitions.
The MI Smoke-Free Apartment Initiative included the following components:
Impetus for the Collaboration
For many years, local health departments have received complaints from tenants in apartment buildings about their exposure to secondhand smoke. The health departments had very little legal advice for these people.
The partnership with SFELP matched legal advice with the local health departments’ campaigns to reduce secondhand smoke exposure. This provided another front to reduce the exposure to secondhand smoke and provide yet another reason to quit smoking.
The MI Smoke-Free Apartment Initiative became a great success and created an enthusiastic esprit de corps among partners in the local health departments and coalitions. In the first nine months:
more than 200 smoke-free apartments were identified, and many went onto the Initiative's online smoke-free apartments listing;
many landlords were assisted in converting to smoke-free apartments;
many tenants were helped;
in April 2005, with help from the Initiative, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Kalamazoo adopted a smoke-free apartments policy for their 76-unit Dillon Hall apartment building, which is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD);
in July 2005, the Cadillac Housing Commission became the first public housing commission in Michigan to adopt a smoke-free apartments apartment policy (and one of only seven housing authorities in the United States to have adopted a smoke-free apartments policy at that time); and
excellent relationships were developed with the two statewide public housing director associations.
In nine months, the Initiative dramatically raised public awareness of this issue in Michigan and begun to change social norms about people's rights to smoke-free living in multi-unit residences. The following goals, which were set in July 2005, have been achieved:
Following six months of negotiations, a first-in-the-nation agreement that all tenants who move after Sept. 1, 2006 into any of 49 apartment complexes operated by First Centrum in six states (Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Illinois) will sign leases that prohibit smoking anywhere in the buildings, including the apartments. First Centrum manages 5,452 apartment units and is the first major apartment development/management company in the United States to adopt a policy to transition to total smoke-free status. The Initiative and the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan worked on behalf of elderly tenants in Courthouse Square, a First Centrum-owned, 116-unit building in Ann Arbor, to assist First Centrum in its decision to adopt a smoke-free policy for all its buildings. Most of these buildings are affordable, subsidized units for elderly individuals or persons with disabilities.
Working for four months with an elderly tenant and the Marquette County Health Department, the Initiative obtained an agreement with Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula to transition Cherry Creek apartments in Marquette to smoke-free status and started by making one of two wings of the 32-unit building smoke free.
In a year working with its partners, the Initiative assisted six Michigan housing commissions as they adopted smoke-free policies in buildings collectively housing almost 500 total units: Cadillac (84 units); Plymouth (108); East Jordan (20); Elk Rapids (20); Melvindale (199); and Allen Park (60). This is almost as many public housing authority smoke-free policies as there were in the United States prior to July 2005.
Through extensive contacts with Michigan Housing Commission directors, the Initiative has demolished the directors' fears that it was illegal to adopt smoke-free policies. As one director stated, “Until you researched this and got a letter from HUD saying smoke-free policies were legal, we thought we couldn't adopt smoke-free policies, and HUD staff kept saying we couldn't.” Directors now call regularly for assistance, and the Initiative is viewed as a trusted authoritative partner.
The August 2006 Detroit HUD office newsletter had an article describing the smoke-free policies that Michigan housing commissions have adopted and directing readers to the Initiative's Web site to learn more about how to adopt smoke-free policies. Thus, HUD explicitly endorsed smoke-free policies and pointed to the Initiative as a key resource.
When the MI Smoke-Free Apartment Initiative was started, many, if not most, Michigan newspapers thought it was illegal to list apartments in their classified ads as no-smoking or smoke-free. Today, as a result of the work of the Initiative and its partners, most newspapers allow such listings, which re-enforces the message that smoke-free apartments are legal. A recent survey of apartment listings in papers around Michigan found that 10 percent to 20 percent of the listings referred to units being smoke-free. The Initiative changed the norm.
In the past 18 months, with the help of local health department partners, the Initiative aired more than 10,000 radio ads, issued press releases that generated more than 100 positive television, radio and newspaper reports (some of them on the front page), and sponsored more than 30 billboards, generating many hits to the MI Smoke-Free Apartment Initiative Web site and calls from tenants and landlords asking for assistance.
The MISmokeFreeApartment.org site averages more than 30,000 hits per month (1,000 a day). The SFELP site, which has an apartment and a condo section, averages more than 85,000 hits monthly. These visits generate more requests for assistance and raise awareness of the message that being smoke free is OK.
The Initiative focused special attention on smoke-free condos this past year, producing the first comprehensive analysis of the legal issues condo owners face in seeking smoke-free policies and creating a new ETS in Condos section of the SFELP site. Within one month, this was the top-listed site on Google for smoke-free condominiums. This generated more requests for assistance on this issue, which has twists not found in smoke-free apartment cases.
Together with its local health department partners, the Initiative made numerous presentations to apartment associations, health groups, and others to raise awareness of the legality of smoke-free apartment policies and the economic reasons for adopting such policies. Apartment associations asked for for technical assistance and also sent information to their members about adopting smoke-free policies.
Collaboration can assist the speeding up of social change with the right partners involved. For years, many people were afraid to ask for clean indoor air or just did not understand that they have a right to clean indoor air even if they do not own their own homes. Likewise, many apartment owners wanted to provide a safe and clean environment for tenants, yet did not understand that they could mandate a no-smoking policy. Local health departments were able to bring the law policy into the community, something that the Center for Social Gerontology could not do on its own.
The Center for Social Gerontology: Smoke-Free Environments Law Project
The MI Smoke-Free Apartment Initiative received the Michigan Cancer Consortium's 2006 Spirit of Collaboration Award, the Consortium's highest honor. The award is presented to member organizations that have done outstanding collaborative work to significantly move comprehensive cancer control activities forward in Michigan.
For more information about this project, please contact: