In New Jersey, the Debate Over Housing Integration for the Disabled Continues

The debate over whether integration of people with disabilities into “normal” society and communities dates most recently back to the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 (FHAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), both of which includes inherent protections for sober homes (aka Recovery Residences).

In the ADA language, Congress stated that “the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals[.]” In response to its mandate, the United States Department of Justice has stated that “[i]ntegration is fundamental to the purposes of the [ADA].”

This “integration mandate” was reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision of Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel Zimring, 119 S.Ct. 2176 (1999), in which the Supreme Court focused on what it saw as Congressional judgment supporting the finding that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination.” The Court considered that institutionalization (as opposed to residential, community-based therapy) perpetuated “unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.” The Supreme Court also concluded that institutional confinement “severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”

With this background as context, Gov. Chris Christie said yesterday, 3.4.2015, that he would remove strict limits on where people with developmental disabilities live and work, as contained in a proposal drafted by his administration to promote community integration.

At a town hall in Fair Lawn, a resident asked Christie if he would reject the strict quotas recommended by the Department of Human Services to discourage segregating disabled people. The state’s plan includes limiting the size of most group homes to four occupants, barring more than 25 percent of disabled people from living together in one apartment complex, and requiring people to spend three-quarters of their day at a job or recreation program.

“Christie’s statement is the first time his administration has signaled it was backing away from controversial plan that could potentially upend the living and working arrangements for thousands of people with cerebral palsy, autism and other developmental disabilities. Every state this month must file a plan outlining how Medicaid funds would be used to promote community living. Last month, the executive director of family advocacy organization ARC of New Jersey said that while the federal government required every state to develop a plan that would fund programs that would be more inclusive for people with disabilities, no state was required to set ‘arbitrary’ limits on housing size or specify how much time a person needed to be out in the community.

“‘However much people might disagree about the contours of the program, its general goal was admirable,’ Christie insisted. Next to Texas, New Jersey has the ‘the second largest number of institutionalized people in America.’ “

About Jeffrey Lynne

Jeffrey C. Lynne is a South Florida native, representing individuals and business entities relating to licensing, accreditation, regulatory compliance, business structure, marketing, real estate, zoning and litigation pertaining to substance abuse treatment facilities and sober living residences. Mr. Lynne has been recognized across the region as a leader in progressive public dialogue about the role that substance abuse treatment has within our communities and the fundamental need and right to provide safe and affordable housing for those who are both in treatment for addiction and alcoholism as well as those who are established in their recovery.