Feds update their guidance on ‘sober homes’

 fha-loans

WASHINGTON – Nov. 15, 2016 – The Justice Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released updated guidance on the application of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) to state and local land use and zoning laws.

According to Justice and HUD, the guidance was designed to help state and local governments better understand how to comply with the nation’s fair housing laws when making zoning and land use decisions, and also to help the public understand their rights.

While the latest guidelines still offer protections under FHA for recovering addicts, they also give local governments a bit more leeway in overseeing their operations.

“Zoning and land use are inherently local decisions,” says Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing. “This updated guidance will help (explain) what could constitute housing discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act. Cities will also have more resources to understand their fair housing rights and responsibilities in the course of making decisions related to various types of housing, including group homes for residents with disabilities.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status (residing with children under 18). The statute bars state and local governments from enacting or enforcing land use and zoning laws, policies, practices and decisions that discriminate against persons because of a protected characteristic, such as race, national origin or disability.

The updated guidance – Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and The Department of Justice – is in a question-and-answer format posted online. The recommendations are not law, however, and specific Fair Housing Act questions could still end up in court.

Report highlights

  • A city can deny a group home if it “would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the local government or fundamentally alter the essential nature of the locality’s zoning scheme.” Too many group homes in one neighborhood, for example, might be a consideration.
  • Licensing and other group home requirements may be okay. If so, however, they “must also be consistent with the Fair Housing Act. Such regulations must not be based on stereotypes about persons with disabilities or specific types of disabilities.”
  • Action can be taken based on criminal activity, providing actions “are not taken to target group homes and are applied equally, regardless of whether the residents of housing are persons with disabilities.”

The Justice Department and HUD share responsibility for enforcing the Fair Housing Act, though HUD has primary responsibility to investigate individual complaints of discrimination and can file complaints alleging discrimination. In addition, the Attorney General may commence a civil action in federal court.

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