Meet treatment houses halfway

A group of residents in the West Town and Bucktown neighborhoods have filed complaints against A Fresh Start Sober Living Environments Inc., which operates eight halfway houses across the city, claiming that the facilities attract drugs and crime to otherwise quiet neighborhoods. While the houses may attract residents who engage in questionable behavior, the courts should consider the residents’ motivations for the complaints and weigh the cost of requiring the houses to clean up their act.

Some neighbors went as far as drafting a petition on to stop the halfway houses from being established in their neighborhood, which gained 60 signatures as of press time.

Neighbors may be concerned that these facilities attract criminal activity, but city crime reports don’t support their claims. Between April 2013 and April 2014, there have been 14 crimes on the 500 block of North Marshfield Avenue, the location of one of the houses in question, compared to 18 the year before, according to city data. Of those, none are drug crimes and only five occurred on the street in question. At the other house, located on the 2100 block of North Winchester Ave., 10 crimes—none of them drug offenses—have occurred in the last year, seven of them on the street. There were 12 on the same block in 2012, before the house opened. 

The residents also claim that the presence of these community homes damages the neighborhoods’ property values, but a 1997 report from the American Planning Association gathered more than 50 studies that showed no correlation between the presence of group homes and lower property values.

Michael Franz, the lawyer representing the residents who filed the complaint, said the houses do not offer treatment programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, providing only group housing. He said the houses are not properly licensed by the city. Because each house is in a residential neighborhood and each house is inhabited by more than eight non-related people, the houses need a special use license, which the company does not have, he said.

The city crime data does not indicate a sudden burst of criminal activity on the blocks where the halfway houses are located. Residents’ fears of possible effects are no reason to close off the safe areas of the city, especially to those trying to step away from the dangers of drug culture. The halfway houses provide a beneficial service to society, and the residents should consider that before complaining about problems that may be exaggerated.

Halfway houses depend on the community to succeed, and the neighbors in West Town and Bucktown need to evaluate their motivations and decide what is actual evidence and what is prejudice. The simple presence of former alcoholics and drug addicts in residential areas does not invite crime and theft in a neighborhood, and unless residents can prove the area is suffering directly because of the presence of the halfway houses, they should be allowed to stay. Not everyone can afford to live in the city’s safer neighborhoods, and those who can should welcome those who just want a clean start.