Housing authority battles bedbugs, may ban smoking

Herbert Hernandez attends an Alachua County Housing Authority board meeting in Gainesville, Fla., on Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Brett Le Blanc / The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 9:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 9:15 p.m.

Bedbugs and tobacco were up for discussion at Wednesday's monthly board meeting for the Alachua County Housing Authority — the second meeting that Executive Director Herbert Hernandez has attended since joining the agency in February.

The housing authority is addressing a bedbug problem at the Sunshine Inn, located at 4155 NW 13th Street.

It is clearing out the bedbugs that are already there and ensuring that its other units are pest-free, Hernandez said. He said the tiny creatures should be gone within a couple weeks.

"It's difficult to control them," he said.

Many people who come to stay at the Sunshine Inn were previously homeless and may bring in bedbugs from the last place they stayed, Hernandez said. ACHA is working on prevention efforts to keep bedbugs out of the inn.

Hernandez also informed the board that he plans to take steps toward improving ACHA's ability to determine if anyone currently in public housing or its housing choice voucher program has committed welfare fraud. He said tougher background checks are one way ACHA can more closely monitor this issue.

Hernandez wasn't asking the board for anything, he said. "But this is the direction I intend to head in, and it's somewhat different than what we've been doing in the past."

Hernandez said monitoring potential fraud among those in public housing can keep people who need an apartment from losing it to someone whose need isn't as great. He said it also encourages honest communication about the issue among residents.

Chairman Kali Blount agreed it would help ensure a fair allocation of ACHA's resources, as did board member Sheldon Packer.

"It's our fiduciary responsibility," Packer said.

During the meeting, the board also learned about the possibility of adopting a smoke-free policy for ACHA's housing units.

Blount said smoking is dangerous to the health of smokers as well as those around them and isn't a matter of free choice or personal habit.

"Every smoker is an addict, or they will be if they continue that habit," he said.

Smoke-free policies are gaining the interest of public housing authorities across the nation, said Andrew Romero, tobacco prevention specialist with the Alachua County Health Department.

Two public housing authorities in the U.S. had smoke-free policies in 2000, while five of them in Florida alone have adopted such policies since 2010, he said. He added that becoming smoke-free saves money and protects the health of residents.

Romero pointed out that there is a market for smoke-free housing since most adults in Florida do not smoke and many of those who do smoke refrain from smoking in their homes.

Tobacco Free Alachua, a local community partnership made up of public and private individuals and organizations, has a smoke-free certification program for multi-unit housing in which interested rental complexes can participate, he said. Romero said it could become the model for a statewide certification program.

The board didn't discuss whether it was interested in going smoke-free after Romero's presentation, but members said they may consider it at a later meeting.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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