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L.A. council discusses plan to restrict locations of group homes

Dozens of people testified at a hearing Tuesday about a proposed Los Angeles ordinance that could effectively bar homes that take in veterans, disabled citizens and recovering drug and alcohol addicts from many residential areas.

The ordinance, which has been under consideration in several forms since 2007, elicited a strong response from residents who told a City Council committee that some group homes pose a hazard that could lead to an increase in crime and a decrease in property values.

“This is a public safety issue,” Maria Fisk, a member of the Old Granada Hills Residents Group, said in an interview. “This is about crime and how it’s affecting and terrorizing our communities and families in our neighborhoods.”

But public policy experts and advocates for recovering addicts said the proposed law could force well-run facilities to close and lead to an increase in homelessness. Many testified that group homes have helped them get sober.

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The committee did not vote on the issue because Councilman Jose Huizar had to leave after nearly three hours of testimony to attend another meeting. The committee will take up the ordinance at its next meeting.

Under one version of the ordinance, houses with two or more tenant lease agreements would not be allowed in the city’s single-family residential areas without a permit. Currently, most group homes can open without prior approval.

Supporters say the requirement could help bring order to neighborhoods being disrupted by poorly run facilities. Councilman Mitch Englander, who represents a San Fernando Valley area with dozens of unlicensed boarding homes, said that some have up to 40 residents living in “deplorable conditions” and have prompted police investigations, including for lewd and lascivious acts.

But critics say the potential ordinance could be too restrictive and target the city’s poorest residents, who can often afford only the cheaper rent at group homes.

“Our clients tend to have limited income,” and group homes are often their least expensive and best option, said Reina Turner, a division chief with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

Others said the ordinance could have unintended consequences. For example, two or more college students who lease a house or elderly residents who rent out rooms in their homes could be affected.

The proposal also might make it harder to implement a cost-saving plan to shift nonviolent inmates from state prisons to community probation and housing programs.

About 6,000 prisoners have been released to the county Probation Department since fall. About 14% of them have no permanent residence, according to department officials, and they often live in group homes after they are released.

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“This ordinance effectively cuts out a lot of the housing we have available to that population,” said Peggy Edwards, project director for the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership.

jason.song@latimes.com

ann.simmons@latimes.com


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