The operator of a sober home on Orange Street in Manchester has filed a lawsuit against the city for denying a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act.
Orange Street 296 LLC claims the city violated both the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Into Action Sober Living operates a sober home at 296 Orange St. for 11 women in recovery from substance abuse. Into Action has maintained that its sober-living homes fall within the city definition of a family and require no more permits or regulatory action than that of a family dwelling.
The city’s codes define a family as “a group of individuals, whether or not related, living together in a dwelling unit in a structured relationship constituting an organized housekeeping unit.”
The Manchester zoning board on June 23 denied a variance seeking to allow the sober home in the restrictive R-2 zone.
The lawsuit claims the process of obtaining a variance required onerous documentation, including floor plans and information prepared by a third party, and required a $517.57 fee.
“The city utilizes a process for considering reasonable accommodations that is cost prohibitive and onerous for individuals in-need of relief and accommodation for difficult and often desperate situations,” the lawsuit reads.
On Aug. 16, the zoning board denied a request for rehearing.
The company says the zoning board “did succumb to the pressure maintained by those against sober housing and did carry out the discriminatory intention of those against sober housing at the property by refusing to grant the reasonable accommodation,” the suit reads.
Orange Street 296 says it provides housing to the disabled individuals, who in their own right could sue the city.
The city has issued at least two citations over the Orange Street property, claiming it is in ongoing violation of the city’s zoning code.
City Solicitor Emily Gray Rice acknowledged the lawsuit, but couldn’t comment further.
In July, the board of mayor and aldermen weighed amending the zoning ordinance to provide further clarity to the definition of family.
Under the proposed change, the language includes those “who are related by blood, adoption, marriage, or other domestic relationship recognized by the State of New Hampshire.” The policy also addresses people not related and foster children.
Leon LaFreniere, director of Planning and Community Development, defended the city’s decision at a public hearing.
LaFreniere said the group rents the occupancy per person, per week, and provides supportive services. “That in our mind clearly is not a family or house keeping unit according to a reasonable read of the standard,” he said.
Into Action Sober Living also operates a men-only sober-living home with 15 residents and three unpaid house managers on Dubuque Street.
The planning board voted earlier this month to change the designation of a triple-decker at 273 Dubuque St. to a congregate housing facility, allowing the program to operate legally.
Orange Street 296 LLC seeks a jury trial.