Kennewick housing residents may face ultimatum: Kick the habit or get kicked out

KENNEWICK — More than two dozen residents at Keewaydin Plaza on Sixth Avenue in Kennewick are protesting a proposed ban on smoking at the 65-unit public housing facility, saying it would force evictions for those who can't give up the habit.

"I think it sucks. I'm a smoker. This is not fair at all," said Sheila Wolf, who has lived in the Kennewick Housing Authority's high-rise apartments for four years.

Wolf, who uses a wheelchair to get around, is one of 30 people who signed petitions objecting to the proposed change in the lease agreements that would take effect Feb. 1.

Tom Moak, who is on the authority's board of directors, said the proposal will be considered at an Oct. 26 board meeting.

A public comment period about the changes ended last week, and the board held two tenant meetings in late September to hear comments.

The smoke-free rule would affect the Keewaydin Plaza and Sunnyslope Homes, which is on Fourth Avenue.

Moak said the board, which he joined in April, has been talking about going smoke free for 10 months after the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Authority recommended it.

"HUD is one of our major sources of funds," Moak said, which is why the housing authority took the suggestion seriously.

The proposed change in the lease that would make the public housing properties smoke free says tenants who refuse to sign the new terms must give a written 30-day notice to vacate.

The smoke-free rule would apply throughout the interior of the apartment building and everywhere outside the facility, including the parking lot.

"People won't even be allowed to smoke in their cars in the parking lot," said Jack Robinson, 80, a nonsmoker who has lived at Keewaydin Plaza for 18 years.

"I have to sign a paper I don't believe in. You either sign it or quit smoking. I consider it blackmail," Robinson said.

Tom Hendricks is a born and reared resident of Kennewick who has leased an apartment at Keewaydin Plaza for five years. He says he picked up smoking as a young teenager more than 40 years ago and he still enjoys his cigarettes in the privacy of his apartment and outside on a park bench in front of Keewaydin Plaza.

"I know I shouldn't smoke, but what about my rights?" said Hendricks, 56.

"What I do in my own house is my business," said Hendricks, adding that he has no intention of quitting just so he can remain at Keewaydin Plaza.

"I'm going to do what I have to do. And I'm not going to go live in the park or down by the river," Hendricks declared while enjoying a moment in the afternoon sun with a cigarette on a recent afternoon.

Wolf said she tries to be discreet about smoking, confining her habit to the apartment, not in the hallways or common areas at Keewaydin Plaza.

"They should let people smoke in their apartments. That should be OK. Or if they want to make this smoke free, they should do it as new people come in," Wolf said.

Hendricks said he believes one or two tenants must have complained or a staff member quit and wants everyone else to as well.

"I feel sorry for these people, especially those in wheelchairs who smoke," Robinson said. He plans to bring a show of force with residents who signed the protest petitions at the Oct. 26 board meeting.