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Two Fla. cities plan to regulate sober homes

 

Crackdown on sober home corruption

The 2017 Florida Legislature passed a bill, HB 807, that gives local communities more power to fight corruption – kickback schemes, patient brokering and other criminal activities – by some sober home’s owners. HB 807 still needs Gov. Scott’s signature to become law. For more information on bills passed this year or to read Florida Realtors’ end-of-session report, visit Florida Realtors’ website.

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – May 19, 2017 – Two cities in south Palm Beach County are on their way to becoming the first cities in the state to force sober homes to tighten standards and stop settling in clusters.

Delray Beach and Boynton Beach both plan to adopt regulations that would force sober homes to voluntarily certify with a nonprofit that requires them to meet business and housing standards – or prove they meet those standards without certification; and limit the number of homes allowed to open in a given area.

Delray's regulations are based on a detailed sober home study of Delray Beach by Daniel Lauber, a zoning legislation expert hired by the city for $10,000.

"By so protecting sober home residents from unscrupulous operators we will then be able to protect our neighbors, the surrounding neighborhood and citizens of the city," Delray Beach attorney Max Lohman wrote in an email.

Sober homes are places where addicts live together and support one another after undergoing treatment to overcome addiction. But the industry, which draws addicts to south county, has been corrupted by fast profits on unnecessary drug-screening tests charged to health insurers.

The homes are protected from discrimination under federal law, limiting the powers of local communities to restrict them.

Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant thanked Delray Beach Tuesday "for spending the money for the study." Mike Rumpf, Boynton's director of planning and zoning, said the study backed up his own findings.

The cities differ slightly in their approaches.

Delray Beach aims to limit the number of group homes, which include sober homes, to one every 660 feet, or one city block, based on Lauber's recommendations. Boynton plans a looser limit: one home, or possibly two, per 300 feet.

Federal guidelines released in November, at the urging of U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, showed cities how they could regulate the clustering of sober homes within a neighborhood if they can prove a strain on city resources. For sober home residents, clustering can create conditions removed from reality, which can be an obstacle to recovery, Lauber noted.

"Clustering community residences – especially recovery residences – on a block and neighborhood reduces their efficacy by obstructing their ability to foster normalization and community integration," his report reads.

Limiting the number of sober homes, said Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein, possibly will deter drug dealers and reduce the number of overdoses.

"Unrelated to the study's findings, I think that when these concentrations are reduced we're also going to see the opioid-related overdoses drop," Glickstein said. "It's much easier for a drug dealer to sell heroin in a neighborhood that is all recovering addicts."

Both cities plan to force sober home operators to either certify their businesses with the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, a Boca Raton-based nonprofit that regulates homes under a voluntary program for the state, or prove they meet the standards set by FARR.

In Delray Beach, homes with more than three unrelated residents, known as group homes or community residences, must be granted a city designation known as a "reasonable accommodation," which exempts them from local regulations. The city now will only consider such requests if the sober home meets FARR's standards.

Certification is good for sober home residents, so it's hard to show they would be harmed by the restrictions, said Jeffrey Lynne, who often represents sober home operators. "In this case, certification would or should withstand any judicial scrutiny," he said.

The certification requirement would force sober homes to "operate in a legitimate manner," Lauber told The Palm Beach Post.

"Palm Beach County is the poster child for how things can get perverted by a scam artist (in the recovery industry)," said Lauber, who is based in River Forest, Ill. "It's critical to have standards in place that would protect residents from abuse and exploitation."

The proposals emerge as Boynton Beach's temporary ban on applications for group homes expires June 4. The city passed the moratorium to draft new regulations.

Both cities require approval of the regulations by their respective planning and zoning boards and city commissions. Both plan to introduce the ordinances by July, city officials have said.

© 2017 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Lulu Ramadan and Alexandra Seltzer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.