H.B. 6559 An Act Concerning Zoning Regulations and Community Residences

Home H.B. 6559 An Act Concerning Zoning Regulations and Community Residences

To:       Planning & Development Committee

From:   Ben Shaiken, Director of Government Relations, The Alliance

Date:    February 1, 2023

Re:       H.B. 6559 An Act Concerning Zoning Regulations and Community Residences

Good morning Representative Kavros DeGraw, Senator Rahman, Representative Zullo, Senator Fazio and members of the Planning & Development Committee.

My name is Ben Shaiken and I am the Director of Government Relations at the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance (The Alliance). The Alliance is the statewide association representing community nonprofits. Community nonprofits provide essential services to over half a million individuals and families in Connecticut every year and employ 115,000 Connecticut workers, improving the quality of life in communities across the State.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of H.B. 6559 An Act Concerning Zoning Regulations and Community Residences with a suggested amendment. The bill would repeal discriminatory state statutes that make it difficult for nonprofit providers to open new programs serving people with disabilities of all kinds in residential settings.

Connecticut’s community-based system of care and support for people with disabilities relies on the ability for programs to be located across Connecticut, fully integrated within every city and town. People with disabilities of all kinds deserve to be afforded the same rights as everyone else – the right to live wherever they choose and to not be discriminated against. Unfortunately, state law currently allows for discriminatory practices by municipalities against people with disabilities that live in residential programs managed by community nonprofits.

CT Statues Currently Violate State and Federal Laws Against Discrimination

The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibits states from denying a person equal protection of the law. This and three federal laws — section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and the Fair Housing Act, especially its 1988 amendments (FHAA) — limit local control over group home siting.

Article XXI of the Connecticut state constitution also prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of physical or mental disability, and other state statutes mirror the FHAA by making it illegal to (1) discriminate against people with physical or mental disabilities in housing sales or rentals or to otherwise make housing unavailable to them and (2) refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, practices, or services. It defines disability to include intellectual or physical disability and any disability covered by the FHAA.

Current State Laws Regarding Group Home Siting

State statute currently only requires municipalities treat group homes and other residential programs the same as single-family homes only if the facilities meet a number of restrictions.

Section 8-3e prohibits municipalities from treating “community residences” different from single family homes, but it also, along with § 19a-507d, allows any resident of the municipality to petition the state to revoke the license of the facility with approval of the municipality’s legislative body for allegedly violating any state statute.

Section 8-3f restricts the protections of § 8-3e, only allowing the protections of § 8-3e if community residences are outside of 1,000 feet of another.

Section 19a-507b prohibits development of community residences when such establishment would raise the percentage of the population of people with disabilities to more than 0.1% of the total population of the municipality and reiterates the 1,000-foot language from § 8-3f. It further allows any resident, through the mayor, first selectman, or local legislative body, to petition the state to revoke a home’s license if its population rises above this threshold.

How Current State Statutes Discriminate

First, §§ 8-3f and 19a-507b are discriminatory on their face. The spacing restrictions in statute serve no purpose other than to limit the number of people with disabilities in communities across the state. They were both passed before the federal government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was intended to end government discrimination against people with disabilities.

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Current law says that homes for people with disabilities are only allowed to be treated the same as a single-family home if they are more than 1,000 feet apart and if cumulatively, they don’t make up more than 0.1% of the population. We do not allow proximity restrictions through local zoning for any other protected class, including race, color ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual identity, age, or familial status.

Second, existing law has unjustified discriminatory effects. Even in communities where people with disabilities are welcomed with open arms by neighbors and local government, forcing a new group home to get special approval rather than being allowed by right, as would be any other otherwise conforming use of a house, has an underlying negative effect on the creation of new residences for people with a disability.

The prospect of a local petition to revoke a group home license is a deterrent to the development of new group homes in certain communities. The mere existence of these state laws limits housing for people with disabilities. When nonprofits or the people they serve are seeking locations to open a new residence, they shy away from a location within 1,000 feet of another such home or in a community where people with disabilities served in community residences make up more than 0.1% of the population for fear of a local petition.

For more details, please see OLR report 2019-R-0157, which we have appended to our testimony.

Proposed Amendment Language

 

While we thank the Committee for raising this important bill and we respectfully request you amend it. It appears the initial draft transfers a definition that is currently in Section 19a-507a to Section 8-3g before repealing Section 19a-507a and other sections. The definition, particularly that of a “mentally ill adult” is antiquated.

Instead, we request the Committee incorporate the definition of “community residence” that exists already in Section 8-3e into the “community residence” that is regulated by Section 8-3g.

Thank you again for raising this important bill that will help people with disabilities and the nonprofits that provide them with services and support in the community. Please support H.B. 6559.