By Margie Plunkett
Delray Beach has a new set of rules in place for transient housing, limiting the number of unrelated people who can live in a household in single-family areas as well as the number of times a property can be leased, among other things.
Commissioners passed ordinances after a second public hearing July 7 that brought out another round of landlords, sober-house owners, single-family homeowners and other residents to defend their points of view. The debate focused largely on sober houses, but residents in single-family neighborhoods also complained of group homes occupied by college students and others, which bring an inordinate amount of traffic and strangers to the neighborhood. And residents questioned whether the city could enforce the new rules any better than the old. Mayor Woody McDuffie made clear, “It’s not about recovering addicts, it’s about unscrupulous landlords.
“There are facilities in Delray Beach to be admired: They’re not the people we’re talking about,” McDuffie said. “Recovering addicts are welcome in the city of Delray Beach. We’re pleased and proud that when they get through treatment, they become contributing adults. We can’t tolerate unscrupulous and profit-mongering landlords who abuse the people in the homes.”
He referenced a statement made during this and a previous public hearing by the chair of Delray Beach’s drug task force, Pat Archer, who said, “There are no halfway houses in Delray Beach operated in residential neighborhoods. Sober houses are unlicensed and unsupervised.” Supporters of sober houses spoke of how without them they would not have recovered from addiction, and how the good citizens in one halfway house volunteered to help a neighbor when needed.
Meanwhile, residents pointed out that the city had not succeeded in enforcing earlier ordinances limiting unrelated people in a single-family house to five.
“Enforce the codes you have,” said resident Caroline Zimmerman, who noted a house in her neighborhood: “It’s not a drug house, it’s a crack house. They pretend they’re a drug house. It’s up to you all to enforce these things.”
And another resident, James Garn, said, “I’m not against sober houses, I have a problem with transient houses. I know houses where they have 15 people in the house, collecting $150 per person.” And, he added there are sober houses claiming homestead exemption.
City commissioners quickly told him he should report homestead fraud when he encounters it.
A recent report by the city Budget Task Force said there were 493 rented houses in Delray Beach that receive some form of tax exemption. Adding them to the tax rolls could result in $376,710 in added revenues annually for the city, the report said. The task force also said there were more than 1,000 rental properties that didn’t have landlord permits; this, if confirmed and corrected, could result in $54,250 more revenue for the city.
At the public hearing on transient land uses, a statement by Father Chip Stokes at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was read that reiterated his contention the new rules discriminate against unrelated adults who live together, college students, gay and lesbian people, farm laborers and the poor who consolidate for cost savings, as well as the sober-house community. “It is wrong on too many levels,” the statement said. “It should not be passed.”
The group of ordinances, passed on first reading in June, addressed transient housing by defining family as no more than three unrelated people; updating terminology to conform with the state; and prohibiting transient residential uses in single-family and planned residential developments, but allowing them in medium density residential districts. They also limited the number of times a single-family home can be rented to six times annually and provided for regulation, including permitting, permit fees and revocation of permits.