Two Federal Agencies Provide Cities Update On How To Handle Sober Home Proliferation

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Staff report
Cities dealing with an influx of sober homes received some relief in an update issued by two federal agencies last month.
The departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development updated a joint statement that was more than 15 years old to help provide cities legal clarity on ways to maintain the safety and character of their communities while protecting the rights and needs of people with disabilities, including those recovering from drug addiction.
During a press conference announcing the update, Congresswoman Lois Frankel and Delray Mayor Cary Glickstein said the update is meaningful for cities.
“This joint statement should give local governments the necessary guidance to help them keep neighborhoods safe and healthy and protect persons with disabilities,” Congresswoman Frankel said.
Even though the statement addresses all types of group homes, officials say it will help cities deal with mitigating the proliferation of sober homes.
Glickstein said while the statement isn’t a law, it will help provide cities with legal cover in addressing how many is too many sober homes for an area. Until now, he said local governments often had no choice but to approve sober home applications or be faced with a discrimination lawsuit.
Federal laws prevent local governments from banning sober homes or limiting them to certain areas. It also prevents cities from keeping track of where they are located. Delray settled a discrimination lawsuit in 2012. In 2007, a judge ruled that Boca’s ban on sober homes in residential neighborhoods was discriminatory.
Now, he said the statement allows local governments to set zoning and land use rules that work for their cities. He said he has asked the city attorney and planning director to look into imposting a zoning in progress, or a time-out on approving any new applications, while the city analyzing the updated statement.
The 20-page statement, which was originally set to be released in August, makes three key points in helping cities figure out how to regulate sober homes:
A city can deny an accommodation request for a group home if granting it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on local government or would fundamentally alter the city’s zoning scheme. Factors include the nature and extent of the burden, proximity of group homes to one and other, the cost of the requested accommodation, the financial resources of the local government, and the benefits of the accommodation to the disabled individual.
Licensing and other requirements for group homes for health and safety purposes may be permitted if they are not based on stereotypes, equally apply to all homes with a minimum number of unrelated residents, and do not target homes based on the presence of individuals with a disability.
The Fair Housing Act does not prevent state or local government from taking action in response to criminal activity, insurance fraud, Medicaid Fraud, neglect or abuse of residents, or other illegal conduct occurring at group homes.