Houston's lodging, boarding ordinances may be tightening up

Proposed ordinance changes to boarding homes and alternative housing facilities, like halfway houses, was the topic of discussion at City Hall Tuesday, but not everyone is in favor.

Alternative housing facilities are where at least three or more unrelated parolees reside. The debate is if these and other boarding homes should be registered with the city, facing annual inspections and being required to only operate with a permit.

"So the community really needs to know who is doing time in their neighborhood, so that's what this ordinance is about," said Andy Kahan, Victim Advocate for the City of Houston.

And the numbers are startling, according to Kahan, who says Harris County has way too many of these facilities.

"Forth Worth area has 17. Travis [County], Austin, 31. Dallas, 32. Harris County, 118 so our numbers dwarf the rest of the state, so we need to get a grip on this issue," said Kahan.

Kahan presenting his findings to the city's Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee where the public was also allowed to chime in.

"These people are trying to get their lives together, get in sober living homes, battling addiction and they're human beings who have a right to better their lives," said Edward Manderson, who works with recovering addicts at Take Action Recovery.

And with Houston's lax zoning laws, these homes for those looking to recover from addiction or finish out their sentence can operate essentially anywhere.

"Under our current condition, a number of parolee's are able to operate outside of the confines of their requirements by living in homes that are unregistered, unlicensed and unknown to the public around them," said council member Mike Knox.

The ordinance is being presented as a way to improve the safety standards of these often run-down facilities. In fact, a fire at a boarding home back in March 2016 claimed the lives of three people as other residents struggled to escape.

"They didn't have proper fire exits, and care and public safety in place," said council member Brenda Stardig, who is also Chair of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

Under the new ordinance, alternative housing facilities will need to be 1,000 feet away from schools, parks and other similar homes. Existing facilities, however, may be grandfathered in if approved by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

"I think the intent is probably good, but the underlying reason behind it is, I think, more to marginalize these types of facilities and profile them and make it financially difficult for them to operate," said Manderson.

The hope is that city council will take it up sometime in March.