S.B. 868 An Act Concerning Regulation of Community Residences

Home S.B. 868 An Act Concerning Regulation of Community Residences

DATE: February 19, 2021
TO: Planning & Development Committee 
FROM: Ben Shaiken, Manager of Advocacy & Public Policy, The Alliance  

RE: S.B. 868 An Act Concerning Regulation of Community Residences. 

Good morning Senator Cassano, Representative McCarthy Vahey, Senator Hwang, Representative Zullo and members of the Planning & Development Committee. 

My name is Ben Shaiken, Manager of Advocacy & Public Policy at the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance (The Alliance). The Alliance is the statewide association of community nonprofits.  Community nonprofits provide essential services in every city and town in Connecticut, serving half a million people in need and employing 117,000 people across the State. They are an important part of what makes Connecticut a great place to live and work and an important piece of our economy. 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify regarding S.B. 868 An Act Concerning Regulation of Community Residences. 

Community nonprofits provide residential services to people across Connecticut. Most of those services are provided under contract with the State. These services include behavioral health services — mental health and substance abuse treatment — that takes place in short-term residential settings, as well as supported living settings more commonly known as “group homes” for people with disabilities of all kinds. 

These facilities are heavily regulated by state government, including by C.G.S Sections 8-3e, 8-3f and 8-3g, that all discuss the interplay of “Community Residences” with municipal zoning regulations. Section 8-3e defines Community Residence and, in short, prohibits a local zoning authority from treating such a facility any different from a single-family home under certain conditions. Section 8-3f restricts how close together Community Residences can be located, and section 8-3g disallows a local zoning authority from prohibiting Community Residences in zones allowing multi-family housing. 

Currently, “Community Residence” is defined as: 

  1. A residence that houses six of fewer people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities;
  2. Any residence serving six or fewer children with mental or physical disabilities;
  3. Any residence service six or fewer people receiving mental health or addiction treatment contracted with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS); or 
  4. Any residence that provides hospice care to six or fewer people, under certain conditions. 

    S.B. 868 proposes to change the definition of Community Residence to expressly exclude any private, for-profit medical facility, or any facility that receives no funding from DMHAS and is required to obtain a Certificate of Need. This draft language raises several concerns. 

    First, we are concerned the bill as drafted would create the potential for local zoning boards to broaden their restrictions on non-DMHAS-funded facilities. The language proposed by S.B. 868 would exclude “any facility that receives no funding from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.” We are concerned that, if passed as drafted, this language creates a conflict with the current law, summarized above. A local zoning board could interpret that change to allow for the regulation of all non-DMHAS-funded facilities, even though those facilities are covered in subdivisions 1, 2 and 4 of Sec. a of Section 8-3e, and that a court may misinterpret the proponents’ intention in the limited revision proposed by S.B. 868 and rule such further exclusion lawful.  

    In addition, based on public hearing testimony submitted on S.B. 868 and on a similar proposal in 2020, the particular facility that S.B. 868 proposes to exclude from the definition of Community Residence is already excluded by current law. Section 8-3e includes in its definition of Community Residence “any community residence that houses six or fewer persons receiving mental health or addiction services and necessary staff persons paid for or provided by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and that has been issued a license by the Department of Public Health under the provisions of section 19a-491, if a license is required.” Much of the testimony submitted on S.B. 868 claims this facility will not be receiving any funding from DMHAS, and would not meet the definitions in subsections 1,2 and 4 of Sec. a of Section 8-3e. Based on the existing language, such a facility would already be excluded. 

    Second, we are concerned about S.B. 868’s reliance on the existing nonprofit exemption from the Certificate of Need (CON) process. The bill proposes to exclude any facility required to obtain a CON, regardless of whether or not one is granted by the Office of Health Strategy. Behavioral health facilities are required to obtain a CON, but nonprofits that contract with the State to deliver behavioral health services are exempt from the requirement. However, that exemption is not guaranteed. In fact, as recently as 2016, a Governor-established taskforce evaluating reforming the Certificate of Need process recommended eliminating the nonprofit exemptioni. Such a change would exclude nonprofit facilities from the protections of Section 8-3e if S.B. 868 passes as drafted. 

    Third and finally, we appreciate the intention of the proponents to protect creation of residential facilities operated by nonprofits, as Sections 8-3e and 8-3f both also include various restrictions on the number of Community Residences that a zoning board may not restrict. However, we believe those siting restrictions and quotas are in violation of Article XXI of the Connecticut State Constitution and the Federal Fair Housing Act. The legislature could address these concerns by repealing the quotas in 8-3e and 8-3f, bringing state statutes into compliance with state and federal law. 

    Thank you for the opportunity to testify on S.B. 868. We encourage the Committee to revise the bill to address the concerns we have raised. Given the difficulty and challenges that nonprofits endure when siting group homes, we hope the Committee will understand the to work with all parties to be sure that any changes to statutes protect nonprofit facilities.  

     

    Ben Shaiken
    Manager of Advocacy & Public Policy
    bshaiken@ctnonprofitalliance.org