TWINSBURG — An overflow and sometimes raucous crowd of residents descended upon City Council chambers Thursday to learn about plans for a “recovery house” at 1890 Edgewood Drive.
The city scheduled the town hall forum after several city officials received calls about a nonprofit group’s plan to house up to five individuals in the home.
Four of them would be recovering addicts and one would be a house manager, who could or could not be a recovering addict. The addicts must have completed treatment programs, and could live there from six months to two years.
It was noted in most cases, the house manager is a certified peer recovery counselor.
Mayor Ted Yates and Law Director David Maistros said there are no city regulations — zoning or otherwise — prohibiting the five people from living in the house. And Yates said the property owners would not have to obtain permits or city approval.
The city officials added the city’s hands are tied as to what it can do by the federal Fair Housing Act and Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibit housing discrimination.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and a provision of it states the term “group home” includes those occupied by persons in recovery from alcohol or substance abuse.
Yates and Maistros pointed out the city has engaged an outside law firm to look at city codes, the charter and regulations — and their relationship to federal and state laws — and to obtain advice on what it can and can’t do in this and future similar situations.
Yates said it is hoped that some advice will be forthcoming by Council’s next meeting on Aug. 28.
Fearing the facility would increase crime and lead to declining property values in their neighborhood, many of the nearly 100 residents on hand said they are not opposed to such recovery houses, but they believe they should not be located in residential districts.
“I’m not insensitive to the need for something to benefit those recovering from addictions, but an appropriate location should be found,” said resident Michael Turle. “I feel it’s clear that residential care facilities are not permitted in our R-4 zoning district.”
Copley resident Teri Heer, who with her husband John Heer owns the Edgewood Drive property, said the couple wouldn’t house the recovering addicts if they did not feel confident that it is safe. The couple recently established the nonprofit group Akron Center for Recovery to run the house.
City Councilman Sam Scaffide, who called the recovery house “a very emotional issue,” said the Thursday forum was set up to inform the public of the facts of the matter and quell a lot of misinformation circulating on social media.
“City officials are just trying to get the facts out,” he said. “Since I learned about this proposal, I’ve learned a lot about recovery houses and the laws that govern them, and I hope residents will be educated, too.”
The Heers gave a short presentation about recovery houses and how they are run, and answered many pointed questions from residents, who were instructed to write them down. Then Scaffide posed the questions to the couple.
After the couple left, Yates and Maistros fielded many more questions from residents.
Heated exchanges between the crowd, the Heers and city officials took place several times during the evening, with people trying to speak at the same time, snide remarks being made and a uniformed police officer having to quiet the crowd from time to time.
One resident shouted out that the gathering was “a kangeroo court” and another called city officials “dictators.”
Resident Sue Clark echoed some of the other sentiments expressed — that the location of the recovery house is the key issue. She said she believes city officials are not taking the matter seriously enough and they should look at regulating such facilities in the future.
“This proposed house might be a done deal, but let’s work on some ways to regulate these types of homes in the future,” she said, “Since this issue is going to be with us for a long time, let’s do more research and perhaps have more meetings to talk about it.”
WHAT IS PROPOSED
The Heers started the Akron Center for Recovery Inc. in 2017 to help people who suffer from mild to moderate co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders. John is an attorney and Teri is a licensed professional counselor.
They said they hope to open the recovery house sometime in September after repairs and upgrades are made to the home and property.
“These people are trying to turn their lives around,” John said. “They want a safe place to live and the same things every homeowner wants. They are not users of any illegal substances anymore. They just want to be good neighbors.”
The Heers said individuals who have been convicted of violent crimes, sexual offenses or are experiencing active delusions or hallucinations will not be accepted as residents.
They said the operation will be certified by Ohio Recovery Housing, a state affiliate of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences. Individuals living there would be routinely drug screened and expected to take medications prescribed by a doctor and adhere to strict house rules.
“Weekly house meetings with ACR staff will provide additional opportunities for oversight,” John said. “Individuals living in recovery housing desire the same things as others in the neighborhood — to live in a nice home located in a safe and peaceful environment.”
He said the residents will be required to keep the house and property well-maintained, thereby securing neighboring property values. They also will be expected to work, go to school or volunteer in the community a certain number of hours each week.
Asked why the couple can’t locate elsewhere, Teri said it’s best to place the recovering individuals in a neighborhood environment so they can interact with others and be exposed to things just like other people.
The Heers said no treatment is offered onsite, but the dwellers are required to attend weekly meetings of self-help and support groups. The non-profit group does not do background checks on the dwellers, but John said they could be done by Twinsburg police if desired.
“Studies in some communities which have recovery houses show that crime has not increased because of these individuals,” said Teri. “I believe neighbors should not feel any more threatened than they do with others living on their street.
“These people want to be successful in their recovery. They want peace and quiet, and will self-police themselves. They don’t want to live with unruly housemates. If the tenants cause problems, they will be evicted.”
“If the site becomes a nuisance, the city can enforce whatever ordinances are on the books to deal with that,” noted Maistros.
Ryan Wilson, a recovering addict, spoke to the audience about his experiences. “I sought treatment after 22 years of [chemical] use,” he said. “I believe living in this type of environment is critical to recovery.
“Many people feel we’re worthless and can’t turn things around, but I’ve seen a vast number of addicts recover and become productive citizens.”
He said a typical day for a recovering addict is not much different than for most individuals. “We work, we volunteer, we attend meetings and we go about our business just like everyone else,” he explained.
The Heers encourage concerned residents to visit the nonprofit organization’s website at www.akronrecovery.org.
Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 Ext. 4189 or firstname.lastname@example.org