New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHHFA) recently ruled that all future units built using the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit will be required to be 100 percent smoke-free. New Hampshire is one of only five states in the U.S. to have this requirement.
This new requirement is a direct result of a recommendation by The Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities (CCTFC), which appealed to the NHHFA to include the smoke-free requirement for any new construction or renovation of low-income housing units. The Coalition is working to create more smoke-free environments in support of Healthy Monadnock, a community engagement initiative to become the nation’s healthiest community by the year 2020.
The NHHFA accepted the proposed revision to the tax credit application process and presented it to Governor Maggie Hassan, who approved the smoke-free requirement in May 2016. In order for developers to qualify for Low Income Housing Tax Credit under the new rule, the developer’s application must now reflect a smoke-free policy.
“Smoke-free apartments benefit both tenants and landlords,” notes Kate McNally, CCTFC program manager, adding that the NHHFA has recognized that allowing smoking inside of buildings can cause tenants to suffer illness and poor health and that the cost of rehabbing a unit where a smoker once lived is wasteful since the damage is preventable.
“The business case for smoke-free housing goes beyond the fact that smoke-free apartments cost landlords five to 10 percent less than units that allow for smoking,” says McNally. Cigarettes are the main source of fire death in New Hampshire and the cause of multiple fires each year in multi-unit rentals, costing owners thousands of dollars and resulting in displaced tenants. “Many insurance companies consider a 100 percent smoke-free policy as part of a comprehensive fire-safety policy and will offer policy premium savings for owners,” says McNally.
“Diseases from tobacco use are still the leading cause of death in the United States, topping out at more than 465,000 citizens each year,” says Linda Rubin, director of Healthiest Community Initiative, Center for Population Health Strategy and Practice at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth Hitchcock-Keene, which supports the Healthy Monadnock initiative. “Any opportunity to increase access to smoke-free environments (schools, housing, worksites, parks, etc) could be saving lives in communities across the nation.”
With this new rule, Rubin hopes that unnecessary deaths can be avoided. According to research, the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke are deadly: Secondhand smoke kills more than 400 infants from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and about 41,000 nonsmoking adults from heart disease and lung cancer every year. The federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, typically managed by Housing Finance Commissions, is the federal government’s primary program for encouraging the investment of private equity in the development of affordable rental housing for low-income households.
While some states and cities have added an optional credit for including a smoke-free policy to the list of credits from which developers can choose, others, such as New Hampshire, are now requiring a smoke-free policy as a condition to apply for the tax credit. New Hampshire joins four other states in the U.S. that have implemented the requirement of a smoke-free policy for properties that receive state funding: North Carolina, Hawaii, Montana and Maine.