Feds give local communities sober home guidelines

Feds give local communities sober home guidelines

There is new hope for local communities trying to find ways to cope with an influx over sober homes.

CBS12 Investigates first reported how communities across the Palm Beaches pleaded for help.

Their pleas have been answered. Congresswoman Lois Frankel announced the federal government is finally taking action.

New guidelines now allow local governments to craft ordinances or laws that protect those in recovery, while at the same time, protect neighborhoods from a growing number of group recovery homes.

“I think it is a big victory for the neighborhoods,” said Delray Beach resident Kelly Barrette.

Barrette is encouraged that the Justice Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development recognizes the national sober home problem and how they are now providing guidelines to local governments, like Delray Beach, so they can take action in the best interest of home owners.

“The joint statement is incredibly encouraging,” said Barrette. “I think we will not only be able to protect the character of our neighborhood, but, also, there is a very vulnerable population going through recovery here and the things have been going on with abuse and insurance fraud.”

Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein told CBS12 Investigates in October his hands are tied when it comes to taking action to regulate sober homes because there are two federal laws protecting recovering addicts.

Delray Beach City Commissioner Mitch Katz says these new guidelines provide the city with legal cover when enforcing zoning laws aimed at regulating sober homes.

“This is something we have been waiting for a long time,” Katz said. “The last time the letter was written was in late 90s. This is finally getting some home rule back to the cities so that we can make rules that are good for all of our citizens.”

Barrette started the Facebook Group, “Take Back Delray Beach,” to help residents like herself who are living near unregulated sober homes plagued by trouble. For her this is a major step forward.

“This is five years in the making,” said Barrette. “We have something to be happy about. I think this is a real good thing for our city.”

This new federal joint statement now adds clarity to what governments can do, such as enforcing licensing requirements, taking action in response to any sort of fraud or illegal activity and denying accommodation requests based on the number of residents or homes in a community.

The Joint Statement makes three key points:

• 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.

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