Healthier Housing Options in Monadnock

Categories: Healthy Places, Tobacco Free

The Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities (CCTFC) has formed a committee to increase smoke free housing in the region. Smoke  free housing not only protects at-risk tenants and youth from second hand smoke, but prevents the accidental fires caused by burning cigarettes.

“The committee will develop strategies to help tenants and property owners protect their right for safer, healthier homes,” said Tammy Dwyer, Tobacco Specialist for CCTFC. “Each year, second hand smoke is responsible for 34,000 heart disease related deaths, 8,000 deaths from stroke, and 7,300 deaths from lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by increasing smoke-free housing in the Monadnock region, we can expect a 50% reduction in the proportion of people exposed to second hand smoke, a 3.8 % increase in smoking cessation, and a 5.1% reduction in cardiovascular disease-related hospital admissions.”

Dwyer continues, “The committee will work closely with town officials. For example, the Town of Winchester has 540 rental units with the majority of those located within the older downtown area.  They have enacted a new Housing Standards Ordinance, which is a great example of safeguarding the health of tenants by implementing policies that set standards for the physical environment where they live.”

Town officials have had ongoing concerns about the safety and code violations of the older housing stock that are rented out, says Margaret Sharra, land use administrator and code enforcement officer for the town of Winchester.

The code violations run the gamut: from the lack of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, means of egress in case of a fire, and even to lack of heat and water. Squalor, or extremely unsanitary living conditions, is also a chronic problem in some areas of town.

“These are common problems that plague not just Winchester, but many towns and cities all across the country,” notes Sharra. “But we have decided to do something about it.”

The Winchester Housing Standard Ordinance, which went before the voters at town meeting in March with overwhelming support, will be in full swing by this October when a part-time inspector is hired to handle the increased workload.

“The goal is not enforcement, or to condemn places, although that could be the last resort,” says Sharra. “The goal is education. A lot of landlords and tenants don’t realize what is wrong.”

For example, notes Sharra, many of the older turn-of-the-century buildings have very few outlets in the rooms. “Tenants will compensate by putting a television, microwave and coffee pot, and more, off of one extension cord,” says Sharra. “They don’t realize this creates a fire hazard.”

Landlords, for the most part, have welcomed the new ordinance, says Sharra. “They want us to come in and tell them what they need to do,” she says. But, in essence, the owners have no choice but to comply. “Without an inspection and compliance they can’t rent the property … and can be fined up to $1,000 per offence. But this is not what we want to do,” she adds, “we don’t want to be nitpicky … we want to give them a chance to bring these properties up to code. But properties that are in gross violation of life safety codes will require multiple inspections.”

Ultimately, the goal is to have a rental housing stock that protects the health, safety and general welfare of the residents in the town of Winchester. “I think Winchester should be very proud in adopting this,” adds Sharra. “It shows we care about our town and we want what is best for our residents.”

“Winchester offers a commendable example of how town leadership can improve the health of their citizens by making their homes healthier,” said Dwyer. She encourages tenants, realtors, landlords or other interested community members to contact CCTFC at (603) 354-6513 to participate in the smoke free homes committee.

The CCTFC is working in partnership with Healthy Monadnock on improving the quality of life and preventing the leading causes of death in Cheshire County. Increasing smoke-free policies in multi-unit housing is part of the $1.1M Partnership to Improve Community Health Grant issued in 2014. Funds must be used for evidence-based interventions to improve the health of our community.