Delray Beach has often been referred to as “ground zero” in the sober home industry boom, but it aims to be “ground zero” in producing solutions to that problem, said Mayor Cary Glickstein.
On Monday, the city’s Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved changes to ordinances that would essentially allow the city to collect data on sober homes so they can bring forward substantial changes in the way they are regulated, under guidelines released by federal officials in November.
“Last night was a first step in probably what is going to be a six-month process on material changes to our ordinances,” Glickstein said Tuesday. “We’re doing it methodically and with a lot of expert guidance.”
The changes to the city’s land development regulations — which will appear before the city commission in January for approval — would require group homes that operate under “reasonable accommodations” that exempt them from local regulations to annually re-certify through the city.
Here’s how that breaks down:
- Recovering addicts are considered “disabled” under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and, under federal housing laws, cities can’t discriminate against them.
- Sober homes can request through a city a “reasonable accommodation” to exempt the home from local regulations on the number of unrelated people that can live in the residence. (Most cities, Delray included, cap it at three unrelated people.)
- To get the “reasonable accommodation” exemption, sober home operators must show that the number of unrelated people residing in the home is crucial to recovery.
Delray Beach presently requires sober homes to certify for “reasonable accommodation” only once through written request. The new regulations would force the homes to seek “reasonable accommodations” each year.
“We want to know as much as we can (about) who is in our town and what they are doing, to the extent that we legally can learn,” Glickstein said. The changes would also require the managers of group homes to submit contact information for city reference, adding to the “data” Delray can keep on tab relating to sober homes, he added.
This first step will eventually lead Delray Beach to explore changing city ordinances to further regulate the bustling sober home industry.
The federal guidelines, released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, clarified for cities their legal ability to regulate the proliferation of sober homes.
One of those clarifications includes a city’s ability to restrict the number of sober homes that should be allowed in a given area.
What Delray Beach won’t do is temporarily ban all group homes — sober, elderly and foster homes included — as the city of Boynton Beach did Monday night.
“Because it’s unconstitutional,” Glickstein said. “It’s not going to survive a legal challenge and we’ve learned that.”
Boynton Beach staff requested the six-month halt to have time to review those federal guidelines.
“It’s difficult to sort of suspend the Constitution,” said Terrill Pyburn, an outside attorney hired by Delray Beach. “We have some concerns that that is not necessarily the best way to proceed.”
Instead, Glickstein said, Delray Beach is opting to collect data, find out just how many sober homes are operating within city limits and learn what financial burden the homes place on city resources.
Said Glickstein: “We will propose ordinances based on data that we think will survive legal challenges.”