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Sober homes story doesn’t do justice

DEAR EDITOR:

The Dec. 12 article titled “Youngstown officials just say no to sober houses” doesn’t do justice to the subject. Several factors need examined when covering the zoning cases from the story as well as the subject of recovery housing in our Valley.

First, the two cases presented Dec. 11 to the Youngstown Planning Commission were classic examples of spot zoning. Spot zoning occurs when you change the zoning classification of a single property so its owner is granted additional rights to use the property which are not shared by neighbors. The property owner sought the zone changes to rent single-family homes to a greater number of people than the current code allows in order to obtain much higher rents than would be typical in these neighborhoods. Granting a one property owner with these rights when they are not shared by neighboring property owners with similarly-sized homes served no legitimate public purpose, and thus the zone changes were denied.

Second, Youngstown’s zoning code doesn’t discriminate against recovery homes: they are treated the same as any rooming house under the city’s code. There are ample areas in neighborhoods throughout the city where rooming houses are permitted. Records provided by county officials indicate that every recovery residence in Mahoning County that has received public support in the last 3 years has been located in Youngstown’s neighborhoods. This raises concern about the disproportionate number of these homes located in Youngstown when compared to the rest of the county. The need for such housing is not specific to Youngstown and should be distributed equitably throughout our county.

Three changes are needed to ensure recovery residences provide fair, quality housing to Mahoning County residents. First, our municipalities should hold recovery residences to the same housing codes as all other residential rental property. For Youngstown, this means these properties should be licensed and inspected to ensure they are safe, decent places for people to live. Second, the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, which administers state funds to recovery housing providers, should enact policies ensuring providers comply with local laws and housing codes. Finally, the Board should prioritize funding in a manner that incentivizes providers to fairly and equitably distribute recovery residences throughout Mahoning County. All communities in the county are affected by addiction and need quality places to live for those in recovery.

Properly structured and professionally managed recovery housing provides significant benefits to those recovering from addiction. In the absence of effective state laws, it’s up to our community to make sure these homes are safe, fair, decent places to live in order to protect people in recovery and our neighborhoods from exploitation.

JACK N. DAUGHERTY III

Youngstown

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