Zoning Ordinance, the Fair Housing Act & MPC

Shreveport Attorney John Settle
by John Settle

What would be better than a non profit organization providing a homeless shelter for woman in the Highland area? Especially if the facility was totally privately funded? And better yet the house itself was one of the nicest on the street – – next to the biggest, most modern house, which welcomes the facility? hobo transient

Sounds too good to be true, but it is, – – – with only one minor (?) problem though. Believe it or not (Caddo/Shreveport) Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) has objected to the facility, and is trying to require the owner to have the property rezoned to allow for the facility. The owner questions why any zoning change is needed, citing the (federal) Fair Housing Act and the zoning ordinance itself as his authority.

The MPC takes the position that this facility is a roominghouse; the ordinance defines a roominghouse as “a building, other that a hotel, where for compensation and by prearrangement, five or more persons, other that occasional or transient customers, are provided with lodging.” The ordinance also defines a family as “family means one or more persons, including not more than four lodgers or boarders, living together as a single housekeeping unit”. The zoning ordinance does not directly address the roommate situation, i.e. where non-family members rent a house together sharing expenses.

If the MPC decides that this facility is to house a “family”, no zoning change is required. However if the MPC determines the use of the residence is as a “roominghouse”, then approval is required. Seemingly, the MPC is not concerned about “roommate” situations, – – where people live together sharing expenses. However if a person “rents” a unit to non-related persons, then the MPC gold stamp of approval is required. military retirement

Both the Fairfield Historic District Association (FHDA) and the Highland Restoration Association (HRA) are opposed to this facility. A letter from the HRA vice president/zoning chairman to the MPC opined “that the concentration of facilities (rehabilitation and halfway houses) in Highland places a disproportionate burden on the historic district and makes the restoration of the district more difficult.” The letter states that the HRA Board voted unanimously to support the opposition of the Fairfield Historic District Association to this zoning application.

veterans in chaosThe mission statement of the FHDA is “to safeguard and preserve one of Shreveport’s oldest neighborhoods.” This district is bounded by Line Avenue on the east, Southern Avenue on the west, Kings Highway on the south and Olive Street on the north.

The HRA website indicates that “the modern boundaries of Highland are commonly considered to be Stoner Avenue to the north, Youree Drive to the east, Kings Highway to the south and Line Avenue to the west. The Fairfield Historic district, which lies to the west of Highland district, is often considered to be part of the greater Highland neighborhood.” The HRA, much like the Fairfield group, has a primary focus on the restoration and preservation of the Highland neighborhood.

retirement communitySeemingly both the HRA and the FHDA are myopic in their opposition to group homes. The economic reality of the restoration cost of large old homes in these areas frequently results in the conversion of old large houses into multi-tenant apartment buildings that are not upgraded to the level of surrounding homes. The Highland area is full of apartment complexes and rental properties, most of them multi-tenant, in various levels of upkeep, appearance and value.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing, – – both sale and rental. The act not only prohibits discrimination by race, gender and age, but also on the basis of disability or handicap. The Act defines handicap extremely broad and requires that “ reasonable accommodations” be made for the handicapped. Group homes have been considered to meet the standards for handicap accommodations, and courts have ruled that blanket prohibitions of group homes violate the Fair Housing Act. The MPC’s requirement of re-zoning for this group home may very well violate the Fair Housing Act. retirement community living

A drive by 1115 Eustis, the site of this facility, will tell this story best. This house is the first one off Southern Avenue, within easy earshot of the heavily traveled artery. It is adjacent the most modern and largest house on Eustis Street, – – which is owned by a principal in the non profit organization that wants to establish the facility. There can be little doubt that this homeless women facility will be well-run and the house well maintained because of its next door neighbor.

So what’s the problem? Does the MPC really want to run afoul of the Fair Housing Act and possibly jeopardize future federal funding through HUD? Interestingly enough both the FHDA and HRA received city money in 2012 and 2013 funded through Neighborhood Investment Program (NIP) a HUD program. Are they perhaps biting the hand that feeds them?