By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
For years city officials have heard similar complaints from various neighborhoods: sober homes are taking over.
Sober homes are intended to be the end of the recovery process where sober people choose to live sober lives together as they transition back into society.
Frustrated by the inability to change any local rules because people in recovery are protected under various federal laws, city officials have unsuccessfully tried to combat the issue. The city was challenged in court several years ago and since then has been rallying the support of state and federal lawmakers to help with the influx of sober homes.
Now, the city is looking to distance where group homes can be located in a new proposed city ordinance and required they are licensed, certified or accredited from a regulatory body.
The city commission is scheduled to review the proposed rule this month. It received the green light from the city’s planing and zoning board last month. If approved, the rule would be one of the first of its kind in the state, according to the city.
The proposed rule would prevent a new sober home from opening on the same block where one is already operating. To help weed out unscrupulous operators, the city would require proof of license from a group like the Florida Association of Recovery Residences. The rule would apply to all types of group housing, not just sober homes.
“This isn’t targeting the recovery community at all,” interim city attorney Max Lohman told the city’s planning and zoning board before they voted on the rule. “It’s important we have regulations out there that protect everyone.”
City officials say the goal is to protect those in recovery from being taken advantage of and to protect the neighborhoods.
Sober home operators have not been held to the same standard of certification that is required of other group homes, which has led to unscrupulous operators taking advantage of those in recovery, committing insurance fraud and other illegal activity.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg assembled a sober home task force that is dedicated to shutting down shady sober home operations. The group has made several key arrests.
The city is willing to change its rules now more than ever because of an updated joint statement from the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that is being interpreted to give municipalities more power to implement spacing requirements.
Mayor Cary Glickstein was at the forefront of the effort, lobbying help from Rep. Lois Frankel and others to have the groups revise and update their outdated statement. The anticipated updated statement was released Nov. 2016.
To help draft the city’s more than 30-page law change, the city enlisted the help from former city attorney Terrill Pyburn and expert Daniel Lauber, who has helped other city’s implement similar rules.
The city ordinance is based off a 55-page report Lauber published on sober homes in Delray Beach.
The report indicated that there are more than “183 verified recovery residences in Delray Beach plus at least another 64 that are thought to be recovery residences but not confirmed as such.”
Lauber states in the report that he has “rarely seen such a large number and intense concentration of community residences of any type in a single town of any size.”
He found that the highest concentration of sober homes exists east of Interstate 95 between George Bush Boulevard and Southwest 10th Street.
The report states that clustering community residences closely together reduces their goal of fostering normalization and community integration.
But there is a chance the rule, if adopted by commissioners, will be challenged in court. People in recovery are protected under the American Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act. The federal rules say you can’t discriminate against where a person can live.
The proposed rule calls for a separation of new community residences of four or more people to be 660 feet apart. To be closer, the city would have to issue a permit. The city could also issue a permit if the sober home can’t secure a licensure from a regulatory agency.
To review the ordinance, 55-page report and frequently asked question sheet, visit the city website at mydelraybeach.com