Beulah Toombs, an 89-year-old resident of Ohio, is being forced out of her home for refusing to quit smoking. Toombs lives in Cincinnati's AHEPA 127 Apartments, a building for low-income seniors whose rent is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, building residents were given one year to quit smoking when the building went totally smoke-free in 2013. Toombs refused. "I don't think so," she told the Enquirer. "This is my home, and I think you can do whatever you want to in your home."
Clearly, Beulah is a badass (and a healthy one at that—the Enquirer reports that despite her lifelong cigarette habit, Toombs is in remarkably good health). But badassery is frowned on by building management, who deemed Toombs "non-compliant" after maintenance workers spotted ashtrays and cigarette butts in her apartment and another resident reported seeing a lighter and cigarette inside. Toombs is now being forced to evacuate by the end of April.
"My mom is getting older, and this is causing her so much stress," her daughter, Mary Ann Burgoyne, told the Enquirer. "She kept telling me that she was paying her rent. She was a little confused. She thought they might put her in a debtors prison."
Burgoyne approached a senior-advocacy group for help, but said they declined, saying her mom should quit smoking.
The group probably couldn't have done much anyway—and that's somewhat as it should be. Toombs' apartment building is private property, and owners are free to impose whatever rules they like on tenants who choose to live there. If tenants don't like the rules, they're free to move somewhere else, as Toombs is doing. "This is the free market at its best," one commenter on the Enquirer article wrote.
I wouldn't go that far. Private properties subsidized by the government aren't exactly "free market." Toombs' building is part of a national network of HUD-subsidized AHEPA apartment buildings for low-income seniors.
HUD doesn't have the authority to force subsidized but privately-owned apartments buildings to go smoke-free. But it has been encouraging them to do so. Since 2010, HUD has been sending notices to property owners pressuring them to implement smoke-free housing policies.
When the folks in charge of your financing strongly suggest something, that's a strong incentive to do it. I'd wager many low-income buildings wouldn't be instituting no-smoking policies if it weren't for HUD butting in.
At Toombs' building, it doesn't seem like residents were calling for the change. "I have been in this apartment bulding many times as my Mother lived there before she passed away a year ago this March," Trisha Dufresne commented on the Enquirer article. "It is very clean and you can't smell the smoke from inside the tenants apartments, so no one is really getting second hand smoke."
Good thing HUD was around to stop the menace of an old lady unobtrusively smoking within the confines of her apartment!
More proof that government will use any particular power you grant it (in Toombs' case, by living in subsidized housing) as an excuse to reach into totally unrelated areas of your life. But hey, I mean, people should quit smoking anyway, right? I'm sure Toombs will be comforted through her stressful move knowing HUD was just trying to help her.