By Teri Carnicelli
Sober living homes are a growing business in the Valley of the Sun, and with little regulation imposed by the city of Phoenix, residents who are living near one of these facilities began to call in complaints such as trash, loitering, noise, and other “nuisance” issues along with concerns about the safety and well-being of residents of the homes themselves.
More than a year ago the city formed a coalition of stakeholders to look into beefing up the city’s ordinance related to these residential facilities. As a result, the Phoenix City Council on April 18 approved changes to the city’s group home and sober living home regulations, and those changes went into effect last month.
The amendment to the current Zoning Ordinance was drafted by the Planning and Development Department with input from citizens and industry stakeholders, most significantly from Take Action Phoenix (TAP), spearheaded by neighborhood activists Wally Graham, Jeff Spellman and Linda Colino. The amendment strengthens protections for the residents of group homes to ensure they are not victims of unscrupulous operators, while protecting neighborhoods and meeting the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
“In combination with a new state law [recently] signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, Phoenix will now become the nationwide leader in addressing the myriad problems of this fast-growing industry; protecting the vulnerable population counting on these facilities to aid their journey to sobriety, and in so doing ensuring a quality neighborhood environment for every resident,” said Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who represents District 6.
Sober Living Homes are a relatively new business model that take people directly from short-term inpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs and, in theory, help them transition to a productive, sober life. “Unfortunately, since there was previously no regulation or oversight of these businesses, many are little more than insurance or government-subsidized flophouses—places with as many as 10 people, newly released from rehab, living together in questionable conditions entirely without professional assistance or supervision,” DiCiccio pointed out.
The amendment simplifies the definitions of Assisted Living Homes and Centers, Residential Care Homes and Centers, and Sober Living Homes. All those homes will be called Community Residence Homes or Centers.
The amendment also includes the following provisions: Provides accommodations for people with disabilities; extends permitting requirements to more neighborhoods; adds protections to prevent an oversaturation of Group Homes in one neighborhood to prevent clustering; and adds standards for parking requirements and restrictions to limit on-street impact. It also addresses the use of multifamily apartments as community residence centers.
Included in some of the new requirements are measures that require Community Residence Homes to have a trained, on-site supervisor, a discharge plan to protect residents from being dumped on the streets when their insurance coverage runs out, along with basic safety measures to ensure the safety and security of residents and neighborhoods alike.