A controversy has erupted in Northeast Jackson as a couple has purchased several homes and then allowed the Oxford House to use them as halfway houses for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. However, none of these "Oxford homes" went through the zoning process in Jackson nor did they receive approval from the city to operate these "homes" in areas zoned for single-family residence. Each "home" apparently contains seven recovering addicts.
One homeowners association sent out this message to its members:
SHERWOOD/AUDUBON AREA SECURITY ASSOCIATION, INC.
As many of you have heard, and as I was told, Oxford House Inc. is planning to open a halfway house at 2230 East Northside Drive. It is my understanding that this group has not taken the proper steps to install a facility such as this in our neighborhood and that zoning compliance may be at issue as well.
A halfway house which by definition is "a center for helping former drug addicts, psychiatric patients, prisoners, and others adjust to life in general society" is not something we welcome in our neighborhood. I am confident that the SAASA Membership is vehemently opposed to such an operation. Attached is a Petition opposing the halfway house.
Hinds County property records state that the address mentioned above is owned by a Ronald Rogers. However, a second mailer states:
Apparently, the proposed halfway house at 2230 E. Northside was recently purchased by Anna Fiser Stephens & Neal Stephens. (KF note: Chancery clerk records show the purchase.) Their intent is to turn the home into a halfway house for recovering drug addicts & alcoholics. This is a business venture for the Stephens. This will be the second home of this type in our area with plans for 8 more (Emphasis added by KF).The couple lives on Newland Drive in Northeast Jackson. The Harvard-educated Mr. Stephens is from Magee. He and his father operate several businesses and programs that focus on education and assistance for the disabled. Mrs. Stephens is the volleyball coach at Jackson Academy and the daughter of local surgeon Dr. Greg Fiser. Jackson Academy partners with Stephens' Dore program to assist disabled students at the school. Program specifics. Efforts to contact Mr. Stephens have not yet been successful. This post will be updated if any information is received from him or his representatives.
While the home is owned by the Stephens, Oxford House, Inc. is orchestrating the placement of residents and servicing the government-funded, subsidized rent payments. Oxford House is based in Silver Springs, Delaware; they operate 1500+ halfway homes, and they target "nicer" neighborhoods. Under the Fair Housing Act, alcoholics & drug addicts are a protected class, which is how this organization has been able to work around zoning laws.
Many residents have been working on this matter, but there are numerous complications that might make this a long-term battle. Unfortunately, action is needed now, as the residents are scheduled to move in this week. The hope is that through an overwhelming amount of phone calls and emails that the Stephens will reconsider going forward with the halfway house. Please take a moment of your time to contact the Stephens, and urge them to abandon this project to protect the best interests of the neighborhood and its residents.
Residents expressed their outrage on the Nextdoor website (Italics were used to distinguish different messages):
Oxford House is the national organization that is renting the house from a local owner. The people who own the home are Neal and Anna Stephens. The Stephens are the ones who are making the decision to rent their property to a halfway house organization. People should not be upset with the Oxford House organization but rather the Stephens.
They have been renting a house on Forest Park Drive to Oxford House since December 2014. We have been trying since that time to get the Zoning Department to act on this zoning violation.
The house was owned by Ronnie Rogers who coaches at JA with Anna Stephens. He must have sold it to her.
Sad that people who work and possibly live in the area could obviously care less about our property values and safety.
Our neighborhood already has too many rent houses and more popping up all the time. This is one of the many potential problems with owners renting their houses.
Here are Oxford House's 39211 houses - 1348 Winterview Dr. Gender: W
Jackson, MS 39211-3234 Total Occupancy: 6
769-572-5302 Charter: 12/15/2013
1365 E Northside Dr Gender: M
Jackson, MS 39211-5602 Total Occupancy: 6
769-572-4650 Charter: 3/1/2014
5914 Medallion Drive Gender: W
Jackson, MS 39211 Total Occupancy: 6
769-572-4663 Charter: 6/1/2014
4404 Forest Park Dr. Gender: M
Jackson, MS 39211 Total Occupancy: 7
228-249-9468 Charter: 11/1/2014
2230 E Northside Dr. Gender: M
Jackson, MS 39211 Total Occupancy: 7
228-249-9468 Charter: 4/1/2015
It IS appropriate for JA officials and area residents to know of any improper commercial activities and zoning violations in close proximity to a wonderful school with an exceptional learning environment and recent multi-million investment in our city. Spann Elementary officials and parents should also be aware of the situation.
Half-way house, car wash, pool hall or strip joint - whatever is allowed in proximity does matter. No matter who owns it, especially if such improper enterprise can be rightfully redressed by requiring compliance with city zoning.
It’s the Stephens’ choice to be in violation – Oxford House just guarantees them revenue, so to avoid protracted litigation regarding fair housing for addicts, we need to keep the main thing the main thing and focus on efforts to halt the property owners from continued intentional misdeeds.
I've made a choice to invest in Jackson and to live in the city. I choose not to stay on the sidelines while opportunistic investors ignore established zoning regulations to line their pockets without regard to 1) city ordinance 2) compliance with neighborhood standards and 3) detrimental risks to property value to the surrounding area.
Despite my recent experience with home burglary (the first time after living here for more than a decade - and within days of the first crew of halfway house renters moving in), let us set aside speculative, albeit real, concerns about safety of unsupervised, congregate living of recovering addicts and comings/goings of visitors. Let’s overlook the lack of ethics or courtesy by the Stephens to be upfront with neighbors about their plans. This is not a “calling” but a calculated model to make money.
There is a proper Zoning change process and they’ve chosen to ignore it. Their actions are intentional, improper and untenable. Actions have consequences – and the reaction from surrounding neighbors should not come as a surprise.
Those of us in the Forest Park neighborhood have been fighting this since December. We are glad others have become aware and hope for a positive outcome with the City not allowing usage which does not comply with current zoning.
I was unaware of these houses, but went to the website after reading the post...the Oxford House website addresses zoning issues (appears they have fought this fight before). It says that amendments to the Federal Fair Housing Act generally allow this sort of zoning exception. I think the city is going to be hard pressed to fight them on allowing this...the city does not have money for basics so if this involves something that might possibly lead to losing litigation I think the city will not fight it. I may be wrong, but Oxford House may be within its legal right to set up these places...
As stated earlier, these halfway houses have generated no small amount of controversy. The petition is posted below.
Kingfish note: Research shows that what Oxford House apparently does is ignore all zoning regulations and import its "recovering addicts" into nicer neighborhoods- and then dares the neighbors to sue or cite zoning violations so the lawsuit can be removed to federal court. Oxford claims that drug and alcohol addicts are disabled and thus protected classes under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Oxford House website states:
Oxford House™ is a thirty-four year old concept and system of operation for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts to have a realistic opportunity to get comfortable enough in sobriety to stay clean and sober forever. Houses are always rented.
By renting good houses in good neighborhoods, we have demonstrated that we can be good neighbors all over the country.....Oxford House receives almost all of its funding from federal and state governments. There is also apparently little to no supervision at these "homes" as the website also states:
Oxford Houses are self-run because (1) this permits individuals in recovery to learn responsibility, and (2) the lower cost associated with self-run housing permits extensive replication of houses. Because the houses are self-run and self-supported, it is easier to expand capacity to meet demand rather than requiring individuals to leave in order to make room for newcomers.Oxford House makes no bones about protecting the "rights" of addicts on its website. This page on the Oxford website states its case in a quite adequate fashion. The website also states:
78% of Oxford House residents have served jail time. The average length of jail time is about one year, with a range of few days to more than ten years. This is understandable since as many as 80% of the current jail/prison population are alcoholics and drug addicts. Oxford Houses seem to stop the recycling in and out of jail or treatment facilities....Coming soon to a street near you.
The average number of times an Oxford House resident has been through prior treatment is three, but for about a quarter of residents their Oxford House residency is after their first treatment episode.