Louisville Metro Council President David James, D-6, said he plans to introduce a bill requiring the Planning Commission to set clear standards for transitional housing in Louisville.
The goal of the new legislation is to stop establishments from advertising themselves as sober living facilities or transitional housing for ex-offenders if they don’t offer the support or treatment services necessary to assist these clients, James stated in a news conference Monday.
The councilman emphasized that the proposed legislation doesn’t aim to shut down legitimate providers, only the ones that are taking advantage of the lax rules without offering their clients any help.
“You have citizens that are in need of those transitional services paying large amounts of money to live in a facility that is claiming to be a clean and sober living facility but is, in fact, is just a way to gather money and take advantage of individuals,” James added.
Currently, there are no regulations specifically governing who can operate a sober living or other transitional housing facilities. The only requirement is that the owners have proper zoning. Anyone who pays the preliminary fee of $150 for a conditional use permit can open a facility while the permit request makes its way through the approval process.
James said many of the unwanted establishments are essentially boarding houses full of ex-offenders or people recovering from addiction who are living with little, if any, supervision. If the clients in these facilities are causing a problem, James said, the only recourse a neighbor has is to report zoning violations.
“There are current regulations, but they are not defined well enough, and they don’t hold people accountable and set standards that are easily defined. Many of the ones that are illegally operating, we simply learn about them through a neighbor calling and saying, ‘All of a sudden I’ve got 10 people living next to me, and I don’t know what’s going on?’ That’s a weekly occurrence,” James explained.
The proposed legislation directs the Planning Commission to work with the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness and community stakeholders to come up with qualifications for transitional living facilities. The councilman said he would introduce the bill on Monday so that it could go to committee next week. He would like to have the Metro Council vote on the bill within 90 days.
Because there are no ordinances governing sober living homes, the city does not maintain an official list of them.
Last year, Erin Henle, the executive administrative assistant at sober living facility Beacon House, provided Insider with a list of more than 40 sober living houses she had identified. Most of them were located in west Louisville and southwestern Jefferson County because the owners can find cheaper property in those areas, Henle said.
At the news conference, James was flanked by health care officials, treatment providers and community activists.
Jackie Floyd of the Russell Neighborhood Association said west Louisville residents have complained for years about the concentration of unregulated sober living houses in the neighborhoods.
“In the Russell community, there are many, many transitional houses. What we as residents have been concerned about is that the transitional housing operators are not getting a permit, and when you’re not getting a permit, then there is no standards or boundaries. You can do anything you want to do,” Floyd said.
Sam Rose, a community health coordinator for the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, is leading a Sober Housing Task Force, which is working on a two-year plan to manage the city’s opioid problem.
Rose said the idea for creating a definition for transitional housing is just the first step in the city’s plans. The next step would be the creation of a certification program.
“We’re also working with the state, which is looking into the National Alliance for Recovery Residences, which is exploring the standards certification process,” she said. “We are seeing what we can do locally to build capacity within the recovery houses here as well.”
Kim Moore, who celebrated the 20th anniversary of her recovery from drug abuse in October, said the city has to deal with the sober living house issue if it is going to eliminate its opioid problems. Moore is a case manager with Reimage, which provides a second chance to youth and young adults who are involved with the court system.
“I got sober at Beacon House 21 years ago, and then we didn’t have to deal with the predatory places that are available to people right now,” Moore said. “I want to see people recover with dignity, compassion and respect.”