Nonprofit Newswire | Murfreesboro Restricts Housing for the Disabled

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May 31, 2010; The Tennessean | The Murfreesboro, Tennessee city council is scheduled to adopt “a strict leasing policy” concerning nonprofits’ use of city-purchased foreclosed homes—ostensibly aimed at preventing sex offenders and violent criminals from inhabiting nonprofit-owned or leased properties.

It reads much broader to us, like an effort of the council and local residents to prevent nonprofits from converting properties in residentially zoned neighborhoods from family occupancy to “group homes.”   One council member (identified in the article as the “vice mayor”) opposed the policy as not restrictive enough, indicating that the properties should only be used as “single-family houses,” by which we would guess he means for occupancy by traditional nuclear families.

The council’s leasing policy would add restrictive covenants to foreclosed properties sold by the city to nonprofits, preventing them from leasing to felons convicted of violent crimes (within the last five years), convicts on parole or probation for violent crimes, registered sex offenders, and anyone who has used drugs illegally (within the last six months).  The prohibitions on felons, “convicts”, and drug users are clearly meant to deter nonprofits from creating group homes.  Readers should know that group homes for recovering alcoholics and drug users, for example, are frequently structured to operate as the functional equivalent of families and therefore frequently are established in single-family homes in R-1 zoning districts.

Frequently communities will pressure zoning boards to have group homes declared in violation of the residential zoning, but just as frequently, those efforts fail in the courts—deemed illegal infringements on the rights of the disabled under the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Group homes for the disabled—recovering alcoholics and drug users are considered people with disabilities—with as  many as 8 unrelated individuals plus an additional 3 houseparents or guardians are classifiable under Tennessee state law as single family residences for the purposes of zoning.

The community leaders of Murfreesboro might want to consider group homes on a case-by-case basis rather than enacting restrictive covenants meant to achieve a policy goal that all too obviously discriminates against the disabled.—Rick Cohen