London News & Search
A zoning bylaw that may discriminate against developmentally disabled Londoners may soon be off the books.
City politicians have thrown their support behind scrapping a requirement for group homes to be separated by 250 metres, a rule advocates deemed offensive.
“People with disabilities (should) have the ability choose where they want to live, as you and I do,” Aileen Watt of Community Living London said during a public-input meeting Monday.
And because many people with disabilities depend on Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP), living in a home with others is often a necessary reality, not just because of physical needs, but due to financial constraints.
There’s no reason any Londoner should be excluded from a particular street or part of town, Watt said.
“Segregation of certain people from neighbourhoods is discriminatory,” she said.
But that’s exactly what happens if there’s another “Type 1″ group home – that’s a licensed, supervised home for those who “require a group living arrangement for their well-being” – within 250 metres.
Staff also warned politicians – sitting as the planning committee – that the bylaw could open up city hall to legal battles. There’s no legitimate reason for the 250-metre requirement, the city’s development services director said.
“There really isn’t a strong land-use planning rationale or justification for these,” Paul Yeoman said. Other municipalities have removed the distance requirements for the same reason.
Coun. Anna Hopkins said she was surprised the setbacks were in place to begin with.
“We as a community benefit by having (group homes) in our communities,” she said. “I really appreciate your advocacy to ensure we’re not discriminating,” she said to Watt and other speakers.
The bylaw is also having “adverse impacts on the group home operators,” Yeoman said.
There are more than 80 in the city, according to Community Living’s acting director Brian Sim-Little, but social-service providers across the city are facing mounting frustration trying to find places for their clients to live.
Investors looking to buy a property and create a group home must go through the city’s zoning process and ensure there are no other such homes within 250 metres. That can take weeks – time that just isn’t available in a hot housing market.
One resident at Monday’s public meeting expressed concern that the public hadn’t been further consulted about the possible bylaw change. His neighbourhood was negatively affected by frequent traffic and people moving in and out of a group home, he said.
But Sim-Little said the majority of residents in group homes don’t cause any trouble.
“These already exist in pretty well every neighbourhood in the city. They’re part of the fabric of the community. Do some homes, sometimes, create a problem or two for the neighbourhood? It’s certainly at a much lower rate than any other neighbour in your neighbourhood,” Sim-Little said.
And when a current policy invites lawsuits, it’s time to act, Coun. Stephen Turner said.
“Any time we are notified that we may be out of compliance with our legal obligations, there’s a duty on this council to act quickly,” he said.
City politicians voted unanimously to amend the bylaw.
Watt and Sim-Little were overjoyed by the support, calling the proposed amendment “a huge step forward.” Londoners with developmental disabilities, who may need the support of a group home, are no different than other residents, Watt said.
“They are just living in a home in the neighbourhood and want to be a part of the community, want to be friendly with their neighbours, want to have good neighbour relations – just like anybody else,” she said.
London News & Search