Oklahoma Spotlight: A Win for Smoke-Free Housing in OKC

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A TSET Healthy Living Program Grantee in Oklahoma County is working to make big changes in the lives of more than 3,000 apartment dwellers. Thanks to their work, a smoke-free policy has been passed with the Manhattan Management Company, which means that nearly 1,300 apartment units will become completely smoke-free.

Read on for the full scoop from Lauran Larson, Business Coordinator at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, on the behind-the-scenes legwork and persistence it has taken to make this happen!

Q & A

Q: How did you develop this idea?

A: Oklahoma County has hundreds of apartment communities. I utilize a Smartsheet database to cold call apartment complexes. I search online for all apartment complexes within a chosen zip code and record their contact information. I find that cold calling complexes is necessary as I have had only a couple of apartment complexes seek me out. I know that not all of my work will fall into my lap. I like to seek out opportunities by cold calling apartment complexes and planting seeds.

I call complexes one after another and explain that I am with the health department and I am working on a database of smoke-free apartment complexes in Oklahoma County. They tell me whether they have a smoke-free lease addendum or not. If they do have one, I praise them for it. If they do not, I briefly describe the resources and assistance that I can offer to them for free, should they ever be interested in learning more about going smoke-free.

19 times out of 20 I get a simple thank you. One time out of 20 I find someone who is more interested. Perhaps they’ve had complaints or have been milling over the idea.

This particular success was due to the fact that this manager had been considering surveying residents to select specific buildings that could go smoke-free based on survey results. She requested the resources I was offering and stated that she would review these in a meeting with her superior. When I called to follow up, they had decided to go smoke-free in all buildings at new applications and lease renewals.

Q: How did this move your work plan forward?

A: I work specifically on the Healthy Living Program outcomes B4 (voluntary smoke-free policies in multi-unit housing (MUH) developments) and B5 (improve the nutritional profile of foods offered in stores). One of my goals is to help apartment complexes improve their smoke-free policies. This could mean going from nothing to something or strengthening a pre-existing policy. This policy helped meet our goals.

Q: How much did it cost? How much staff time did it take?

A: It does take many cold calls to find one that will be successful and that is time consuming. Once I had made initial contact with this property manager, things went smoothly. I offered to meet in person, but was not taken up on this offer. I simply e-mailed her the resources she requested. She did review these materials. The next time I spoke with her they had come to the decision to go smoke-free in all buildings. They had pulled the language they wished to use from our sample lease addendum.

It was a pretty easy process though some portions required a lot of back and forth. Suggestions for a more comprehensive policy and assessments did require multiple e-mails and phone calls. I also provided smoke-free MUH decals to her and another manager for all units. They plan on using these decals on each unit to indicate whether it is under a smoke-free lease yet.

Q: What lessons did you learn?

A: It feels awkward to cold call. Once you’ve made several in a day you may feel pushy or uncomfortable. Something I tell myself to ease this awkwardness is that the next person I’m calling has not spoken to me today. I’m a brand new person to them.

My “sales pitch” is never 100% the same, and I don’t always nail it. Each call is a new opportunity to perfect it, though.

It is also best to speak with an actual property manager when one is available. If one is not available I kindly ask them to mention this to the property manager or I call back at a specified time.

Q: Where are you planning to take this idea in the future?

A: I will continue to cold call complexes and cross my fingers for more apartment managers who have a bit of readiness when it comes to adopting a smoke-free policy. I will also use this opportunity to continue to dispel the myths regarding smoke-free MUH. I frequently receive comments such as “We will lose tenants”, “We can’t enforce that”, or “That’s not legal/allowed”. I use these as opportunities to educate. I will continue to plant these seeds and hope that one day I get a call from them.

Learn more

To learn more about these efforts to bring smoke-free multi-unit housing to Oklahoma County, or for more on the benefits of smoke-free housing, contact Lauran Larson at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.

Click here to download an infographic on smoke-free apartments from Oklahoma County.

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