The institutional reform movements of the 1970’s led to a significant downsizing of large facilities housing people with developmental and other disabilities. Advocates began a concerted effort to establish community-based homes, but faced numerous obstacles, most often from local communities which used zoning and building laws as a barrier to allowing development of smaller group homes.
Getting a group home established in the 70’s and early 80’s required persuading a zoning board that the proposed home was not an institution and should be allowed in a single-family area because the group functioned as a family. One of the first in this area was established in Lakewood after a memorable hearing where some neighbors were vocal in their fear that the residents (with developmental disabilities) were likely to molest the neighborhood children. Zoning was finally approved despite these fears.
Another approach was used in Shaker Heights which adopted a group home ordinance after literally years of study and neighborhood meetings. Most cities, however, continued to use zoning restrictions to keep the homes out of single-family neighborhoods.
Two developments changed the picture. In 1985, the US Supreme Court in City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center., Inc. held that there was no rational basis for communities to exclude family-style group homes in residential areas.
Then came the 1988 amendments to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which extended the protections of the FHA to people with disabilities. More specifically, the FHA prohibited cities from excluding group homes in areas zoned for families. Numerous Keep reading ...