Lafayette, Do You Know Your Next Door Neighbor?
I feel like I must include a disclaimer before I get started on this story. I have previously worked with recovering addicts and thoroughly enjoyed the work I did and the people that I encountered every day.
I have lived in Lafayette for the majority of my life. I am not oblivious to the fact that there is a massive drug problem in the city and state for that matter. I have seen these issues firsthand with the past work that I have done in my professional life and also in my personal life. Those who struggle with addiction hold a very special place in my heart.
However, I never realized just how many halfway houses or sober living facilities were in Lafayette Parish. From what I could find, there are over 20 halfway homes or sober living facilities in the Lafayette area. For some reason, I just never put two and two together. If you have been paying attention to the news in the last few weeks then you saw that there was a massive house fire recently on Verot School Road. This house is right outside of my family’s neighborhood. I can remember a family living there when I was younger and I guess my family kept thinking that this never changed. I never saw it come up for sale so I just assumed that it was still considered a family home but at some point that must have changed.
Now there is also a Dollar Store that is also located right outside of the neighborhood and I have frequented this store for many years, sometimes multiple times a day. The rumor around the store was that this house was now a halfway house but no one I knew could ever verify this rumor so I let it go. I never really thought much about it, to be honest, I just thought that people were spreading rumors.
Well, when the house went up in flames a few weeks ago it got the neighborhood talking and sure enough, it is a halfway house. There were many residents of our neighborhood that congregated in the streets to talk and watch the firefighters battle the blaze. I overheard several residents speculating what could have caused the fire and without fail almost every time the question was asked someone responded with, “well you know it’s a halfway house.” This got me thinking…
1. Why is this an acceptable answer?
2. How did this house transition to a halfway house without anyone noticing? And why is it so close to a neighborhood with children?
As I dug into the house and its history I came to realize that it is indeed a halfway house. It is known as the Oxford House Chateau and seems to be rented out by the Oxford sober living community. I started to look into if Lafayette has any kind of ordinance that requires a sober living facility to alert neighbors that they are moving into a neighborhood and there is no such ordinance.
“Pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, it is our policy to provide individuals with disabilities reasonable accommodation in ordinances, rules, policies, practices, and procedures, including reasonable accommodations regarding zoning and other requirements of the Lafayette Development Code."
Mary Sliman, Director of Community Development & Planning Department for Lafayette Consolidated Government
According to Mary Sliman, "Lafayette Consolidated Government is currently working with legal counsel on the reasonable accommodation request procedure which will include some conditions that the sober living facilities must abide by in order for their request to be granted."
As I was looking into all of this information I came across a story out of Baton Rouge that was from 2011. Oxford House, the same sober living facility that burned down, sued the City of Baton Rouge for blocking halfway homes in single-family neighborhoods. After several years of being tied up in the court systems, Oxford House won the case. Since this topic is one and has to be approached very carefully by federal, state, and local governments many officials have warned about fighting this fight in the courts. It seems as though local governments understand why neighborhoods have an issue with these homes being located in them, especially when residents around the home aren’t even aware that these sober living communities exist. However, because of the Fair Housing Act, there isn’t much anyone can do about it.