The Sober Living Homes boom and its consequences
A comment about some possible consequences to Sierra Madre of the "Sober Living Home" boom was left on this site yesterday. The author provided some links to important news articles as well. Here is what the commenter had to say:
I recently moved to Sierra Madre from Orange County where the dramatic increase of sober living homes has become an issue in every city there. I'm hoping the city here takes a long look at how to manage this, before the numbers grow out of control. Some background on the issues:
South County cities 'struggling' over sober living homes (OC Register link): Cities throughout suburban South Orange County are working on how to handle the influx of sober-living homes in their residential communities, responding to local homeowners’ complaints and citing their presence as a potential threat to neighborhood character.
“A lot of cities are struggling right now,” Laguna Niguel Assistant City Manager Dan Fox said recently. “They’re trying to figure out how to balance and preserve the nature of a single family neighborhood with the needs of those sober living residents.”
Sober living homes house groups of individuals recovering from addiction issues, and are often located in suburban neighborhoods – a venue common throughout the county.
“It is an attractive area,” Fox said. “We have larger homes – lots of single family homes - that you can convert very easily.” (Mod: More at the above link.)
A Sobering Discussion (San Clemente Times link): In recent months, residents of Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano have expressed increasing concern about their neighbors—many of them new. For them, the issue isn’t so much the quality of their neighbors but rather the frequency in turnover of these new residents.
These neighbors come and go from residential group homes—some for children and adolescents, others for disabled adults and many for people recovering from alcohol and drug abuse.
Between the three south Orange County cities there are 24 licensed drug and alcohol treatment facilities. This includes residential homes, inpatient and outpatient facilities, according to a report from the state Department of Health Care Services, which provides licensing oversight for such facilities.
These residential treatment facilities are considered single-family residences in the eyes of both the state and municipal governments, so long as no more than six people are residing in the home. Under that foundation, these dwellings are awarded the same freedoms as traditional single-family residences. But they are licensed by the state and therefore must meet certain standards.
As far as municipal rules go though, there is little to no oversight, or even enforcement measures that can be taken, because city regulations regarding such uses simply do not exist—as group homes, with six or fewer people, are permitted by right in any residential zone. (More at the above link.)
A Small Town Struggles With A Boom In Sober Living Homes (NPR link): When Phillip decided to stop using heroin, he knew sticking around home was a recipe for failure.
"It's just, like, a heroin epidemic on Long Island where I'm from. So I had to get away from that and now I'm in Prescott, Ariz.," Phillip says. NPR agreed not to use his last name because he is struggling with addiction and fears it might hurt his chances of future employment.
Phillip and a handful of other young people are filtering through the line at a soup kitchen at the Prescott United Methodist Church just before noon. They are grabbing a bite to eat before their next meeting of recovering addicts nearby.
"Everybody here is basically, I feel like, in recovery and they're more serious about it," says Phillip.
Not like back home in New York, he says, where people shoot up in the parking lot before meetings. (More at the above link.)
Costa Mesa Planning Commission to review 6 more sober-living permit requests today (Los Angeles Times link): The deluge of sober-living home operators seeking permits they need to remain open in Costa Mesa continues Monday, when the city Planning Commission is scheduled to review six applications.
The meeting is the latest in a recent stretch in which commissioners have met weekly to go through a backlog of sober-living permit requests.
The permits are required under a pair of city ordinances restricting how close such facilities can be to one another. The homes generally house recovering drug and alcohol addicts who are considered disabled under state and federal law.
All the sober-living homes up for review Monday have been open at least two years, according to city documents.
In 2014, the City Council adopted an ordinance requiring that sober-living homes with six or fewer occupants in single-family neighborhoods be at least 650 feet apart. Last year, the council created similar rules for such homes in multifamily zones.
City officials say the goal of the ordinances is to prevent the facilities from clustering in residential areas, though some critics have claimed the restrictions are illegal and discriminate against recovering addicts. (More at the above link. Pay particularly close attention to this next one.)
Sober Living Businesses in Residential Zones (Western City link): Current law limits local regulation of sober living homes and residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation (rehab) facilities. These uses have become lucrative businesses in many instances, and their operation in single-family neighborhoods is sometimes controversial. This article presents the current legal constraints and considerations for cities related to these homes and facilities.
1. Licensed residential rehab programs are subject to the same (and no more) local laws as single-family homes. Cities may regulate land uses to protect the character of residential neighborhoods. This authority is not unfettered. State and federal law can pre-empt local regulation. State licensing statutes expressly exempt certain residential rehab facilities from local zoning regulations. Alcohol and drug programs (ADPs) that provide 24-hour residential nonmedical services to adults who are recovering from alcohol and/or drug abuse must obtain a state license. If a licensed ADP facility serves six or fewer patients, state law prohibits cities from regulating it any differently than a single-family home.
2. State law imposes fewer restrictions on licensed residential rehab programs than other licensed group homes. State-licensed group homes are subject to different restrictions. The Community Care Facilities Act, from which alcohol and drug rehabs are exempt, imposes various restrictions that protect the character of residential neighborhoods. For example, under the act, licensed foster homes cannot be for-profit businesses. ADPs, however, may operate as for-profit enterprises in residential zones without business licenses because licenses generally are not required of other single-family uses.
3. Sober living homes do not require a license and are not limited to six or fewer residents. A sober living home provides a substance-free, mutually supportive living environment for adult recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. No services are provided but residents may engage in self-help programs individually or with others. The state licenses residential facilities that provide nonmedical treatment and detoxification services. Where no treatment is provided to residents, no license is required. The limitation to six patients is part of the state statute. Because the license statute does not apply, sober living homes are not limited to six residents per single-family home. Also because the statute does not apply, cities are not pre-empted by state law from regulating these uses. However, as noted below, other legal considerations apply.
4. Anti-discrimination laws and “reasonable accommodation” requirements limit categorical regulation of sober living homes. Federal and state fair housing laws protect people with disabilities from housing discrimination. Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are disabled for purposes of anti-discrimination laws. When people in recovery live together in a “sober living” home, cities cannot discriminate on the basis of the disability, which means an ordinance cannot treat sober living homes differently than other similar uses in single-family residential zones.
(Mod: You really should read through the entire Western City article because it details just how completely the state and feds have tied the hands of local governments on this issue. More is available at the link provided above.)