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Northridge murders prompt new rules for L.A. boarding, group homes

December 10, 2012 |  2:09 pm

After more than two and a half hours of discussion and public comment, a key Los Angeles City Council committee unanimously backed new regulations for boarding houses and group homes, one week after four people were murdered near a possibly unlicensed boarding house in Northridge.

Known as the Community Care Facilities Ordinance, the proposal would crack down on unlicensed group and boarding homes in single-family neighborhoods throughout the city. If passed by the full City Council, the ordinance would increase oversight of licensed group homes serving seven or more people and change the city code's definition of a "boarding house" to include any home with more than three leases -- requiring them to obtain a license. 

The measure would not impact licensed facilities serving six or fewer people, which state law prohibits the city from regulating.

PHOTOS: Four killed in shooting at Northridge home

The ordinance, championed by Councilman Mitch Englander, aims to enable police and code enforcement officers to rid single family neighborhoods of unlicensed boarding houses, in which dozens of people are sometimes crammed into a handful of bedrooms and that in some cases become havens for crime and drugs.

Praised by more than 40 community groups and neighborhood associations, the ordinance has come under fire from anti-poverty advocates and those who oversee group homes for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

"This ordinance limits options at a time when people need options," said Fernando Gaytan, of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, in his statement to the committee.

Englander, and many of the speakers in favor of the ordinance, cited the murder last week of four people at what police believe to be an unlicensed boarding house in Northridge where as many as 17 people were living in a single-family home.

"This does come on the heels of a heinous tragedy in Devonshire," Englander said, noting that now is the time to update "out of touch" and "antiquated" sections on the city's municipal code that prevent authorities from adequately monitoring boarding houses.

By requiring a license to be obtained by homes serving seven or more people or where residents are living under more than three leases, Englander said city officials will be able to conduct routine inspections and shut down problem houses that are unlicensed. Leaders of various homeowners associations addressed the committee, pleading for the ordinance's passage, citing overcrowded homes operating in their neighborhoods.

But critics of the ordinance say that it could force group homes that service the drug addicted, disabled, parolees and the chronically homeless to shut their doors and send residents out onto the streets. They say they would be required to get a state license and that would formally define them as “boarding houses.” That would mean they could not stay in areas that are zoned for “single family housing.”

"No one supports 20 or 30 people in a single family house," said Michael Arnold, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. "L.A. is a city with a critical shortage of affordable housing. This ordinance will violate fair housing laws."

Before voting unanimously to pass the ordinance on to the full council, the committee broadened its language with relation to leases. While a previous proposal would have required any home with more than one lease to apply for a license, Englander amended it with wording to allow up to three leases before requiring a license. He also instructed the city attorney to research the effect the ordinance could have on domestic violence shelters and provide a possible exemption for them. 

"We've taken a lot from all sides of this to try to craft good public policy," Englander said. "It's not my intent, nor will this ordinance have the effect, to push out those in need." 

Englander also added to the ordinance a provision that would automatically reopen public comment on the matter one year after its implementation -- a provision he said was suggested by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in order to hear out unintended consequences.

The council is expected to vote on the ordinance in January.

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-- Wesley Lowery at Los Angeles City Hall

Follow Wesley Lowery on Twitter and Google+.

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