Phoenix Residents: Sober Living Homes Are Hurting Neighborhoods

Published: Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 5:00am
Updated: Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 8:35am
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(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Wally Graham tells a subcommittee the city needs to do more to regulate group homes.
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Members of the Phoenix Downtown, Aviation, Economy and Innovation Subcommittee discuss group homes.

Stories of drug use, harassment and lewd comments came out during an economic subcommittee meeting in Phoenix on Wednesday. Nearly two years ago, the city stopped enforcing spacing requirements for sober living homes, and some neighbors say that’s leading to clusters and hurting their quality of life.

Phoenix used to require group homes maintain a one-quarter mile distance from each other. But that changed in 2015 after a group home operator and the U.S. Department of Justice complained the city was violating the Fair Housing Act. 

Drug and alcohol addictions are considered disabilities, and the government requires cities to provide reasonable accommodation to people in recovery.

Phoenix hasn’t figured out how to do that yet, and residents representing neighborhoods from the central, east and northern parts of the city say their neighborhoods are suffering.

“As many as 10 men, it’s a home for men, live next door and they can only smoke in their backyard, and it comes in my yard, which changes my quality of life as you can imagine,” said a woman who asked that her name not be used. “I have personally experienced harassing behavior from a resident looking me up and down in a lewd way while I am walking my dog.”

“In a one-quarter mile area, there’s nine unregistered sober living homes," Jeff Spellman said. "That’s a lot clustered in a small area."

While the state of Arizona regulates homes for foster children and people with physical and developmental disabilities, it does not regulate sober living homes. And neither does Phoenix.

During the meeting, the Planning and Development Department recommended minor language changes involving group homes, but residents pushed the city to do more. Wally Graham said they’ve done extensive research on how other communities regulate sober living homes, but city staff wasn’t interested.

“And what we got was ‘It doesn’t work, it doesn’t fit, the lawyers say.’ Well, we said, c’mon bring the lawyers down, let them talk to us in a meeting. We could never get that kind of openness,” he said. “We believe this requires true dialogue to help both the residents of the group homes and help residents of neighborhoods. This cannot be a situation where we only take care of one side of the coin.”

The city’s legal team has cautioned that creating rules for one type of home could lead to lawsuits. Councilwoman Thelda Williams said she believes there needs to be a spacing requirement.

“Some things are worth taking a risk for, and I think this is something that is very important to maintain the integrity of our neighborhoods,” she said.

Subcommittee members directed staff to research a potential registry and enforcement measures. A report is expected in June.

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