City of Sedona Settles Housing Discrimination Complaint

IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:

(Tucson)
Diana Chen
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Arizona Center for Disability Law
(520) 327-9547
(Phoenix)
Andrew M. Mudryk
Director of Litigation & Advocacy
Arizona Center for Disability Law
(602) 274-6287

CITY OF SEDONA SETTLES HOUSING DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT

(SEDONA, Ariz., July 14, 2003) -- Recently, the City of Sedona agreed to settle a housing discrimination complaint, brought by Recovery Alternatives, Inc. and Anne Cunningham, its Executive Director, both represented by the Arizona Center for Disability Law (the Center). The January 2003 administrative complaint, filed with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, alleged that the City violated the Arizona Fair Housing Act when its Land Development Code thwarted efforts of a group home for individuals with disabilities from operating in a Sedona residential neighborhood.

Recovery Alternatives and Ms. Cunningham sought to establish a group home designed to help individuals, who have ceased using controlled substances, recover from addiction and begin anew. After purchasing a house in Sedona’s Kachina Subdivision, obtaining all necessary state licenses, and completing significant renovations on the property, the group home ran into a road block when the City of Sedona refused to permit operation until the City issued a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). "Under the federal and state Fair Housing Acts, people who are addicted to alcohol or controlled substances but who are not currently using are considered individuals with disabilities and are protected from discrimination," stated Diana Chen, one of two attorneys at the Arizona Center for Disability Law (the Center) representing Recovery Alternatives, Inc. and Ms. Cunningham. "This means municipalities like Sedona can’t make it more burdensome for people with disabilities to live in the neighborhood of their choice," explained Chen.

In November 2002, the Center was contacted by Ms. Cunningham when the group home’s administrators were experiencing problems with Sedona land use provisions that required group homes to obtain a CUP before operation. The City originally classified the home as a "group dwelling" subject to a public notification and a citizenship participation process. Therefore, according to the Sedona Land Development Code, Recovery Alternatives was required to notify all land owners within 300 feet of the property and endure a citizen participation process before the City would consider granting the CUP.

"Conditional Use Permits are commonly used by municipalities to deal with property usages that are out of character for their immediate surroundings," said Andrew Mudryk, Director of Litigation and Advocacy at the Center, also representing the complainants. Mudryk further explained, "But here, Recovery Alternatives wanted to open a home in a residentially zoned area where the residents would live as a family. So, the proposed use was consistent with the zoning. Attaching burdensome terms and conditions like the notification and public hearing requirements on group homes violates fair housing laws. Further, the City should have waived the CUP requirement as a reasonable accommodation under the FHA when asked to do so."

"Requiring a CUP for a group home only invites opposition from neighbors often fueled by irrational fear of people with disabilities. That’s exactly what happened here. Neighbors in the Kachina Subdivision vehemently campaigned against granting the CUP," added Chen.

By November 2002, the City, buckling under pressure from angry neighbors, had tabled consideration of the CUP application, delaying operation of the group home and causing severe financial losses to Recovery Alternatives. With the Center’s assistance, a charge of housing discrimination against the City of Sedona was filed with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in January 2003. The charge alleged that the City failed to offer a waiver of the CUP requirement as a reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities mandated under the state’s Fair Housing Act. It further alleged that land use provisions requiring a CUP for group homes serving persons with disabilities is itself a violation of fair housing laws because it imposes more burdensome terms and conditions on persons with disabilities looking for housing.

In May, all parties entered settlement negotiations, with the Arizona Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office. The parties successfully reached a settlement on June 26, 2003. In exchange for Recovery Alternatives and Ms. Cunningham agreeing to dismiss the complaint and relinquish their right to file a formal lawsuit, Sedona agreed to the following:

  • permanently post a disclaimer in Sedona City Hall which states that discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability is prohibited
  • convene a study session of its Planning Commission in consultation with the Center within 120 days of the agreement to consider revisions and amendments to the Land Development Code and other City codes regarding placement of group homes and the City’s obligation and duties under the federal and state Fair Housing Acts and other laws applicable to people with disabilities
  • offer a Fair Housing training session to City staff working on housing issues
  • purchase complainant’s property intended for the group home for a sum of $382,000.00
  • pay a settlement amount of $148,334.00, which included attorneys fees and costs to the Center

In exchange, Anne Cunningham and Recovery Alternatives will delay attempts to open a group home in a Sedona residential neighborhood for one year while the City works to revise its Code.

"We hope news of this case will incite other municipalities in Arizona to review their city or county ordinances regarding group homes for people with disabilities and make whatever changes are necessary to ensure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to housing," said Chen.

The Arizona Center for Disability Law provides free legal services to ensure people with a wide range of disabilities are free from discrimination, abuse and neglect, and have access to education, housing, jobs, health care, and other services. The Center assists individuals statewide through federal protection and advocacy funding along with other grants and donations. The Center does not charge clients for its services.

For further information or a copy of the Complaint or Conciliation and Settlement Agreements, contact Diana Chen at (520) 327-9547 or Andrew Mudryk at (602) 274-6287.

***