Planners say no to request for 12 people in Lincoln sober living house
The Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission has scheduled a probable battle for the City Council over providing adequate housing under federal fair housing statutes.
The commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to recommend denying a request to allow up to 12 adults to live in a home at 27th and Washington Streets.
Owned by MAK Development of Omaha and trading as the Michael House, the home provides a sober living environment for people recovering from alcohol and drug problems, many of whom have just been released from prison.
The city has an ordinance that prohibits more than three unrelated people from living together in an apartment, but it must make an exception for disabled people under the federal Fair Housing Act, which says cities must not discriminate against people with disabilities , which courts have found in recovery from addiction problems.
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Michael House already operates two other homes in Lincoln that have received lodgings, and there are other companies operating similar homes around town with the same lodgings.
Several members of the planning commission appeared upset that the company took the home into operation without seeking housing, even though it knew it needed one, and waited to be confronted by the city after a neighbor complained would have.
But the bigger problem, several commissioners said, was that they didn’t believe the company had argued why it should be allowed to have 12 residents.
For one, the house only has four legal bedrooms and two bathrooms, although Ryan Watson, an attorney for Michael House, said it had two other rooms that could be used as bedrooms.
The commissioners also heard from several neighbors with a range of complaints about the home, including a lack of parking, lack of surveillance and alleged illegal conduct, including drug use and sexual activity in public.
Dean Cole, who lives next door, said he documented nearly 40 incidents in the six months that Michael House’s home was occupied, including residents using his driveway without permission, aggressive behavior and a lack of supervision.
Cole said he doesn’t oppose the home’s mission and has tried to support residents and even offer them rides if needed, but he said he believes 12 people is far too many.
“I can honestly say we can live with four clients and a property manager next door, but with 12 total it would be impossible and too stressful,” he said.
Other neighbors also said they could live in the house with four or five people as long as there is proper supervision.
Watson said Michael House believes there are therapeutic benefits in having as many people in his homes as possible because it inspires accountability among residents, but he also admitted 12 people is the number that does Company needs to make the house economical.
This argument did not influence the Commission.
Commissioner Gloria Eddins said she believes there are reasons to deny reasonable accommodation simply because of the lack of parking.
But other commissioners have focused on whether the home is big enough and secure enough for a dozen adults to live in.
“I wonder if 12 adults should live in a living environment like this,” said Commissioner Dick Campbell.
Commissioner Tracy Edgerton went further, saying it feels like the board is “making a mockery of our zoning laws if we allow this to go ahead”.
The motion will be heard next month before City Council, which must decide whether to follow the Planning Commission’s advice, knowing that denial of housing could result in a lawsuit against the city.
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