Group Home Law Being Exploited to Establish Commercial Transitional Residential Medical Treatment Centers in Fairfield.
The issues of mental health and drug addiction are serious and widespread. The likelihood that most everyone reading this has been impacted by these illnesses through a family member or friend is great. There is no question that appropriate treatment facilities are needed in Connecticut, but corporations trying to exploit group home protections by applying for commercial use of residential properties is not appropriate.
Here’s what’s happening in Fairfield:
In January 2019, Monroe RE, LLC purchased two single-family homes (2495 Redding Road and 3236 Congress Street) on behalf of Newport Academy. That same month Newport Academy applied to the Connecticut Office of Health Strategy (OHS) for a certificate of need (CON) for those properties on the basis they intend to turn those single-family homes into transitional residential treatment facilities for young adults. Before permitted to operate in Connecticut, such facilities must receive a CON from the OHS.
After initiating their application for a CON, Monroe RE LLC, on behalf of Newport Academy, then went to the Town of Fairfield in April 2019 requesting building permits for a change in use for the two properties from single-family homes to R-4 group homes with the intention of establishing six-bed facilities in each home. R-4 classification allows more than five but not more than 16 occupants, excluding staff. Those building permits were granted on the basis of protections afforded to group homes.
The permitting decision was brought to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals where it was upheld on the basis of group home protections. Subsequently, local residents founded a nonprofit, Neighbors for Neighborhood Preservation Inc. and have taken the issue to Court. Recently the Town of Fairfield has notified the OHS that should Newport Academy be granted certificates of need the Town will not issue certificates of occupancy while there is ongoing litigation.
What Does This All Mean:
There are important distinctions to be made between group homes and transitional residential medical treatment facilities.
Group homes have significant protections under state and federal law, including the Federal Housing Act, which, among other things, prohibits towns from imposing restrictions or additional conditions on group housing for persons with disabilities that are not imposed on families or other groups of unrelated individuals. Commercial transitional medical treatment centers do not have those same protections under the law and are prohibited from bypassing local zoning laws. Further, group homes do not require a CON. Group homes are intended to be just that – a home where residents live and acclimate in the neighborhoods in which they reside. Individuals who live in group homes may travel to work, school, the local library, go shopping or elsewhere, but then they return to their group home.
While Newport would like to provide an appealing ‘home-like’ setting for the medical treatment they would like to provide, Newport Academy is seeking to operate a transitional medical treatment facility, not a group home. Newport Academy patients will leave their homes to go to the Newport Academy facility for treatment and then, once their $1,000+/day treatment is complete, they will return to their homes – not to the Newport Academy facility in which they received treatment.
Because we believe it is important to preserve protection for group homes, Fairfield state delegation members Senator Tony Hwang, Representative Brian Farnen and I have submitted legislation that will remove current ambiguity in state law. This is being raised as Senate Bill 185 and will have a public hearing in the Housing Committee on Thursday, February 27.
On March 4, the CT Office of Health Strategy will hold a public hearing on the Certificate of Need application submitted by Newport Academy at Fairfield University at 1:00 PM (200 Barlow Road, Conference Center Dining Room).
While the hearing is scheduled to begin at 1:00 PM, it will likely start with a presentation by Newport Academy and questioning by the OHS before the public comment period. The goal of the hearing is to ensure residents have an opportunity to weigh in on the healthcare landscape in their towns. Agendas for public hearings will be posted 24 hours prior to the hearing and the hearing transcript and video will be posted within 48 hours of the end of the hearing on the OHS website here.
This issue is complex, but the bottom line is corporations trying to exploit group home protections by applying for commercial use of residential properties is not appropriate. We are working to provide the proper clarification. If you have questions, please feel free to reach out.