Published: Jan 06, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Jan 02, 2013 01:43 PM
As promised in September, city-county planners have drafted a rule to block group homes from clustering in particular, typically low-income, neighborhoods.
But some community members who live near such clusters say it won’t do enough to solve a growing problem.
“We need the actual registration of all group homes in this city,” said Northeast Central Durham homeowner Vivian McCoy.
“Group home” is a catchall term for residences housing multiple individuals with disabilities, addictions or in transition from institutional care. Under state and federal law, though, “group home” is one of several specific types of housing, each with its own definitions and supervision responsibilities (see sidebar on p. X).
Durham’s proposed ordinance goes to a public hearing Tuesday night by the Durham Planning Commission.
It requires two types of homes – “family care” and “group homes” – to be at least 1,125 feet apart. That is a bit less than a quarter-mile, enough to prevent group homes setting up next to each other or dominating whole blocks, as residents say has happened in Northeast Central Durham, a long-blighted area struggling to revive itself.
“When you have a halfway house or a rooming house, typically it may attract people who have been on the margins or are on the margins, and sometimes that creates an environment where there can be trouble attracted to those places,” said NECD homeowner Ernest Smith.
“We just want to guard against a concentration that would cause our neighborhood to be something other than what it should be,” he said.Complaints
Complaints last summer by Smith, McCoy and others who have group homes for neighbors moved elected officials to order up the draft separation rule. But making it work is something else.
Proving that a residence is, first, subject to the rule, and, second, in violation of it, can be difficult, said Planning Director Steve Medlin, and city inspection personnel are already stretched thin.
County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, like McCoy, wants mandatory registration for group-home operators.
“These group homes are not supervised,” McCoy said. “The persons that own these homes are not there 24 hours a day. ... Are they certified to care for mentally ill people? This is not simple.”
Authorities don’t know how many group homes there are, or where they are, in Durham County. After comparing notes with several other agencies, planners counted 210 last year, but those are only establishments for which one public agency or another has a record.
“You don’t know ... but people are allowed to do it,” said NECD resident James Chavis. “Does that help our area?”
A map based on the planners’ list shows a group-homes concentration in Northeast Central Durham, but they are spread across the county.
Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden has lived in the middle-class Old Farm neighborhood of northern Durham for years.
“For the first time, I saw a resident, drunk as a fish, walking up my street on his way to his group home,” she said recently. “A person with a mental disability.”
What’s more, she said, she had met someone planning to open another group home about two blocks away.
“It’s beginning to happen all over Durham,” she said.