The Municipality of Anchorage has agreed to allow an independent review of zoning requirements that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development says discriminate against people with disabilities, including those suffering from alcoholism, as part of an agreement reached between the city and agency.
The deal stems from a complaint brought by the federal agency last year, asserting that municipal code in some cases put unfair and excessive restrictions on housing for people with disabilities.
The agency filed a complaint against the city's municipal code last year, asserting it violated the Federal Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws.
The municipality believes its code follows the law, said Dennis Wheeler, municipal attorney.
"The municipality does not believe its current code is noncompliant, but is willing to work with an independent expert and HUD to improve its code, should that be necessary," said Wheeler.
He said in a statement that the complaint stemmed from the Severe Alcohol Dependent Housing ordinance adopted by the Assembly in 2010, creating special land use requirements for such housing. The ordinance affected the Karluk Manor project, but was repealed last May, Wheeler said.
"HUD did not drop the complaint, but insisted that there were still issues with our code," Wheeler said. "However, HUD was unable to specifically identify what parts of our code were not compliant and did not provide us with any examples of HUD compliant code from other jurisdictions."
Wheeler said the city one year ago voluntarily offered the solution of an independent consultant, a position the municipality will pay for.
Lee Jones, spokesman for HUD's Seattle regional office, said that if group homes are allowed in certain neighborhoods, there has to be a level playing field for all groups, whether it's a home for families of domestic violence, for ex-cons, or recovering alcoholics.
The agency asserted municipal code violated the Federal Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws. The law prevents housing-related discrimination based on such things as race, religion, gender, national origin or someone's disability. "It has to be a level playing field," said Jones.
The agency alleged that group homes for disabled people were not allowed in some neighborhoods that permitted other group homes. In some cases, municipal code imposed discriminatory restrictions on group homes for alcoholics, the agency asserted.
The department also claimed that in some cases, group housing for people with disabilities was forced to meet extra procedures not imposed on other groups, such as obtaining conditional-use permits and administrative variances.
"Individuals with disabilities should have the same opportunity as others to live in neighborhoods they choose and should not be subjected to fees that others do not pay," said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a release.
The voluntary compliance agreement, released Thursday, does not constitute an admission by the municipality that it violated the Americans with Disability Act, the Fair Housing Act or other federal law.
The municipality agreed to retain a qualified independent consult to review municipal code and make changes as needed, and refund up to $5,000 in permit fees to those who applied for variances to code, the agency said.
"We look forward to working with the Municipality of Anchorage to make changes in its zoning ordinance to increase access for people with disabilities," Velasquez said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the municipality agreed to change its zoning code. In fact, it has agreed to allow a review of municipal code.