It may be a small text amendment to the city land use bylaw, but it could send a powerful message that St. Albert is an inclusive community.
Last week St. Albert city council agreed to consider an amendment that would make group homes of up to six people a permitted use within St. Albert residential districts. As of now group homes up to three people are allowed, but neighbours could appeal larger group homes.
If the text amendment is approved, this will remove this avenue of appeal, allowing group homes of up to six people to locate within neighbourhoods without having to notify neighbours. The matter returns to city council on Aug. 28 when there will be a public hearing on the matter.
Advocates for people with physical and mental disabilities say the amendment would be a victory for inclusive housing. One advocate said it is humiliating for individuals to be rejected from communities when they need supportive living arrangements. Others say that the current bylaw is discriminatory and that it might not stand up to a legal challenge. They are right on all counts. People who need supportive housing should not have their basic rights vetoed by neighbours.
Neighbourhoods don’t get to vote to keep out large families or families with too many teenagers or too many vehicles. They don’t get to vote someone out of a community when frailty or illness means they suddenly need home care services. Neighbours should not be able to control where people who need supportive living can locate.
One appellant in a recent group home application cited fears about killers and rapists moving next door, when the actual occupants of the proposed group home were children with special needs. This speaks to the lack of education about group homes in the community. In the absence of information, neighbours sometimes assume the worst.
The report presented to council this month should alleviate some neighbours’ concerns about who is living in this type of group home, as it sets them apart from transitional housing and treatment centres. Group homes are defined as having a residential character where those who live there require specialized or personal care, guidance and supervision. “Treatment centres and transitional residential services are not a permitted or discretionary use within residential districts,” the report states.
City administration had recommended that city council hold off on the changes saying the simple text amendment does not address the complexity of residential land use, which also contains sub-categories such as transitional housing, treatment centres. A complete review of land use in residential districts will not be ready before 2018.
While city council supported further changes down the road to the land use bylaw, they did not want to delay the matter entirely.
“We can signal delay or we can signal action. Let’s signal action,” Mayor Nolan Crouse said, just before council voted on the matter.
City council is making an important declaration in considering the amendment on Aug. 28. We want to be an inclusive community. It is time that people who need supportive living arrangements enjoy the same rights as everybody else to live in our communities.