- February 10, 2005
- For More Information Contact:
- Diane Gonzolas, Citizen Information Center, 441-7831
- Gregory Czaplewski, Planning Department, 441-7620
Mayor Releases Report of Group Homes Task Force
Mayor Coleen J. Seng today released the Group Homes Task Force report, which examined the City’s laws and regulations governing group homes and congregate housing. The Mayor has reviewed the recommendations and directed City staff to draft potential changes to City ordinances.
“I want to thank the task force, which had a very open process with many meetings that included hearing from the public and providers,” said Mayor Seng. “There are many types of group homes in our community. The consensus is that our existing local regulations generally work well to provide services to special needs citizens and to protect neighborhoods. One element that is missing is a ‘reasonable accommodation’ process to give those operating group homes and clients a procedure to request a waiver of certain regulations. These waiver requests would be considered on a case-by-case basis by the City Council.”
The task force recommended that the City retain its current system for classifying family dwellings, group homes and health care facilities and its spacing requirements for group homes.
Mayor Seng said the City’s role in regulating group homes is limited to land-use controls enacted through the zoning ordinance. The State of Nebraska is the primary authority responsible for enforcing regulations and overseeing the operation of group home providers.
“Our report includes recommendations for improvement at the state level,” said task force chair Jon Carlson, a member of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission. “The bottom line is that with adequate service from the provider, special needs clients can be wonderful neighbors. With inadequate services, both the clients and the neighborhoods suffer.”
Carlson said recommendations to the State cover issues the City is unable to regulate including:ul
- The State should develop a process to identify those individuals who are unable to be safely housed in the community and to provide them adequate housing opportunities.
- The State should take a more prominent role in the regulation and oversight of the day-to-day operations of these facilities, including monitoring performance, inspecting for compliance and responding to problems.
- The State should increase training requirements and quality to ensure that staff are trained appropriately for the needs of the clients.
“The City is committed to working with State officials in their efforts to improve regulation and oversight practices,” said Mayor Seng. “The City needs to continue to collaborate with local providers and the State to monitor emerging issues.”
Also serving on the task force were:
- Jim Blue, Executive Director, Cedars Youth Services
- Kit Boesch, Administrator, Lincoln-Lancaster County Human Services Department
- Tom Casady, Lincoln Police Chief
- Jonathan Cook, Lincoln City Council
- Roger Massey, former area director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and former Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commissioner
- Rick Peo, Chief Assistant City Attorney
- Larry Potratz, Executive Director, Lincoln Housing Authority
- Dean Settle, Executive Director, Lancaster County Community Mental Health Center
- Larry Williams, Director, Lincoln Commission on Human Rights
- Chuck Zimmerman, Plan Review Manager, City Building and Safety Department
The final task force report can be found on the City Web site at lincoln.ne.gov.
Mayor's Group Homes Task Force
Major Recommendations to the City:
- Retain existing three-tiered classification:
- A family is defined as one or more persons immediately related by blood, marriage or adoption and living as a single housekeeping unit in a dwelling. A family also may include not more than two persons who are unrelated for the purpose of this title.
- A group home is defined as a facility in which more than three (current definition is two) but less than 16 persons who are unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption reside while receiving therapy or counseling, but not nursing care. The facility shall be licensed or approved by the State of Nebraska or other appropriate agency if required. A group home must receive a conditional use permit from the Building and Safety Department. It must be separated from another existing group home by 1,200 feet (3.5 blocks) or 2,640 feet (7.5 blocks), depending on the zoning district.
- A health care facility has 16 or more residents and must receive a special use permit from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission. There is no separation requirement. The facility must maintain a state license.
- Implement a reasonable accommodation process.
This process would allow individuals protected by the federal Fair Housing Act to request a waiver from City regulations. Applications for waivers would be reviewed by the City authority with jurisdiction over the regulation at issue. The reviewing authority would make its recommendation to the City Council, which would decide the waivers.
Major Recommendations to the State:
- Increase training requirements and improve training quality.
This includes greater oversight of the training curriculum. The required type and length of training should be commensurate with the needs of the population to be served. Continuing education could provide opportunities for additional training to meet specific client needs. Strengthened training requirements can produce more capable staff who may not rely on police assistance as frequently as they do now.
- Improve ability to monitor performance, inspect for compliance and respond to problems.
Incident tracking procedures and an early warning protocol can identify potential problem situations prior to their escalation. Continued dialogue with the City of Lincoln, specifically the Lincoln Police Department, can assist with identifying potential problem facilities.
- Increase availability of appropriate placements for high-needs clients.
Additional facilities will be needed to provide services for high-needs residents. Additional training should be required for staff persons serving high-needs clients. A system to identify high-needs clients and improve placement decisions made for them should be developed. Facilities serving high-needs clients should be subject to greater oversight.
- Continue a dialogue with local officials, providers, advocates, consumers and neighbors.
The dialogue and exchange of information during the task force process was insightful and meaningful. Lines of communication among the community, providers and City and State officials should remain open and accessible.