Residents of subsidized apartments in Ashland are concerned about secondhand smoke from others.

At first glance, the Star Thistle Apartments in Ashland look clean and well maintained.

Lucas Hanson said that for the most part he has very few problems living in government-subsidized housing, except for one thing: the secondhand smoke.

Throughout the hallways, in particular, and even in his apartment there is the distinctive odor of cigarettes.

Hanson, a 30-year-old senior at Southern Oregon University who has lived in the apartment for a month, said he thought the smell would have been better managed so it doesn't creep into his apartment.

"The main thing is there is not some kind of ventilation system in this place," he said. "I don't want second-hand smoke."

Hanson and other residents of the apartment complex met this week to discuss the smoking problem with a representative of the property manager, Grants Pass- based Options for Southern Oregon Inc., a private nonprofit.

Most of the residents in the apartment complex don't smoke inside the buildings, but three of the residents are still allowed to smoke because they were living there before the rules took effect about four years ago.

Even though other residents are supposed to smoke away from the building, planters filled with cigarette butts sat on a table under a window that was open to the lobby Thursday.

Residents at Star Thistle receive rent subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that varies for their low income and mental disabilities.

Hanson said he doesn't mind the fact that other residents smoke in their rooms. He's concerned that the fumes escape, permeating the entire building.

"I try to spend as little time in the room as possible," he said. "Anytime I open the door, smoke comes in."

Kim Miller, executive director for Options, said the issue of smoking in these government subsidized units is not limited to Star Thistle.

"We're very sympathetic and doing what we can," he said.

Options provides 77 units of affordable housing in Jackson and Josephine counties. The organization offers counseling, case management, education support, work support and crisis resolution, and it also has a gambling addiction center. It has a budget of $12 million annually, and serves about 4,800 people a year.

When Star Thistle was built 10 years ago, about 90 percent of the people who lived in the apartments smoked. Miller said the apartment was named after the noxious weed because, "we name it for what we knock down when we build it," he said.

Miller said attitudes have changed about smoking in the meantime, but he wasn't sure he could change the rules for fear of violating some federal law.

After looking into the rules and regulations, Options started enforcing a smoking ban for every resident who came in after Jan. 1 of this year.

Residents who lived in an apartment before that date could continue to smoke, he said. A ban that would apply to these "grandfathered" residents wouldn't work because it could violate their civil rights, he said. If residents move to another apartment, then their right to smoke is lost.

"Slowly, but surely, as people come and go we will have a smoke-free facility," said Miller.

Of the 12 units in the complex, three still have residents who smoke.

Options is looking into devices that "eat" the smoke, but at $800 each it would be expensive to outfit the three apartments, said Miller. He said his organization is looking into building home-made devices that might accomplish the same thing.

"We are trying to find ways to mitigate the smoke," he said.

Smoking has long been a problem for Options, which has had to scrape the walls of some apartments after chain smokers moved out, said Miller.

Another Star Thistle resident, Steve Weiner, said smoke comes through the ventilation system into his apartment.

Despite that problem, 56-year-old Weiner said the apartment complex has many other good points, including neighbors who get along.

"I'm lucky to have low rent," said Weiner, who was hesitant to talk because he thinks many people are hostile to the mental health community.

John Conlin, a smoker who takes his habit outdoors, said, "I signed an agreement that I wouldn't smoke."

Even though he smokes himself, 58-year-old Conlin said he can still smell the odor of cigarettes in the hallway of the buildings.

"I sometimes wish I could smoke in my room," he said, while sitting in a patio area. "But I accept the fact that I have to smoke out here."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.