Group Homes Q & A

Group homes started to crop up in the late 1950s, following a movement to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill. In 1988, the Fair Housing Act Amendment made people with disabilities a federally protected class. The result has been a proliferation of operators setting up group homes to serve individuals with mental illness, physical impairments, or in recovery from drug or alcohol dependency. Though many municipalities have fought against placing them in single-family neighborhoods, the courts almost always decide in favor of the group home operator. [ Click here for a background on group homes in Arcadia ]

 When neighbors first learn of a group home locating near them, they often have many questions. We’ve attempted to answer some of them here.

 1.      How is it possible for these facilities to operate in residential areas?

According to the courts, a group home is just that: a home, not a business. The purpose of a group home is to integrate individuals with disabilities into communities, allowing them to live in regular neighborhoods.

2.      Don’t group homes require a change in zoning?

No. The Federal Fair Housing Act requires that group housing for persons with disabilities be free from restrictions that would not otherwise be imposed on families or other groups of non-related individuals. Group homes that accommodate 5 or fewer are considered no different than single-family residences. Homes for 6 – 10 individuals must register with the City of Phoenix and, with some exceptions, must follow separation guidelines of 1,320 feet. Facilities for 11 or more must locate in within multi-family zoned districts.

3.      Who can live in a group home?

Group homes can serve individuals with either physical or mental disabilities, including seniors, mentally ill patients, or people recovering from drug or alcohol addictions. Senior Living group homes are generally the most lucrative, though, with a growing market throughout the country.

4.      Why are operators locating in Arcadia?

Group homes for seniors, in particular, often need many modifications such as handrails and accessible showers. Older houses in need of renovation make good candidates for conversion into assisted living facilities. The large lot sizes in Arcadia are an additional attraction, as houses can be expanded to accommodate more people.

5.      What regulations are currently in place for group homes?

The City of Phoenix has recently updated regulations for group homes, including spacing requirements to discourage the clustering of group homes and community residences. Read more about the new ordinances HERE.

6.      Is a license required to operate a group home?

It depends on the type of group home. Senior assisted living facilities do not require a license; homes for 6 or more individuals must register with the City. Sober Living homes must be licensed, with new regulations going into effect on July 1, 2018.

7.      Do group homes hurt property values?

Maybe or maybe not. Some studies show that group homes have no impact on values of nearby homes, but the data is hard to validate. When developers turn a run-down house into a beautiful, well-maintained facility, it can be good for the neighborhood. There is evidence, however, that a clustering of group homes in a small area does decrease home valuations, which is why most municipalities enforce separation requirements.

8.      Do group homes increase traffic?

Probably so. Group homes located on a through street with plenty of on-site parking may not have much of an impact. But at the very least, there will be caregivers coming and going. There may be additional traffic from visitors, medical personnel, and delivery services. Emergency calls may also increase.

9.      What can I do to prevent a group home from opening near me?

Probably nothing. Although neighbors perceive group homes as businesses, the courts do not uphold that view. So even if you are in an HOA that prohibits home businesses, you can not prevent a group home from establishing. Group homes do, however, have to comply with existing neighborhood regulations, such as parking and noise ordinances.

 So if that run-down house next door is slated to become a group home, what can you do? First, do your research. If there is another group home of 6 or more residents within a quarter-mile, it may be possible to have the registration denied. Second, follow any variances requested on the proposed group home property.  If the variance could adversely affect you and your neighbors, you should make your opposition known. Above all, try to get to know the developer and group home operator, and work with them to mitigate the neighborhood’s concerns. You may have to live with a group home nearby, and as the saying goes, you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.