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.
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.
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.