Group homes may soon face stricter rules

Emerson Court, the meeting place of The Central City Village Planning Committee. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Regulations for group homes and community residences, including sober living homes and assisted living communities, could soon face stricter guidelines.

The Central Village Planning Committee voted to recommend the changes 17 to 1 Monday. The changes, which would fall under the Phoenix Zoning Ordinance, still have to pass through the planning commission and City Council before being formally adopted. The goal is to have the amendment before council in April.

The text proposal includes adopting a licensing program for structured sober living homes and additional updates to policies and procedures. This includes providing maps of the group home locations on their websites, updates to their applications, city-wide neighbor policy and providing an annual report related to reasonable accommodation requests for group homes, according to Phoenix Planning and Development planner Racelle Escolar.

Changes to group home policies have been in consideration for about a year now. Escolar said Planning and Development presented the city council with a comprehensive improvement package on the issue last month, including a proposed text amendment for the regulations. Council had previously approved the beginning of this process to begin the process to look at licensing and regulation framework.

“The primary objective here with this text amendment is to strengthen regulations and clarify definitions and regulations in a way that hopefully would not trigger any discriminatory claims,” Escolar said.

The main changes in the text ammendment were made for “consistency applicability and to clean up items,” Escolar said.

The bulk of the changes proposed have to do with terminology to avoid discriminatory claims. This includes changing terms like ‘assisted living home’, ‘residential care home’ and ‘sober living home’ to ‘community residence home.’

Another change in terminology includes the change in definition to the term ‘community residence center.’ The definition was made to be more applicable to facilities that are an apartment complex but serve as more of an institutional environment rather than a family environment.

Take Action Phoenix, a group of neighborhood volunteers, was among those at the committee to support the changes. Take Action pushes safety and health ordinances for group homes.

Dr. Alexia Shonteff, a representative of Take Action Phoenix, has personally witnessed the bad side of group homes. In her neighborhood, there are two sober living homes, one of which caused issues for neighbors.

The planning and development department is hoping to get a final decision on April 18, 2018 in front of the City Council.

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