A Baton Rouge federal judge granted a preliminary injunction Thursday that bars city-parish officials from evicting members of Oxford House group homes from neighborhoods zoned exclusively for single-family residences.
Oxford House is a Maryland nonprofit organization that establishes self-governing group homes for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge James J. Brady does not end the litigation.
“It’s not a final decision,” Assistant Parish Attorney Joseph K. Scott said. “This is not the end of the game. This is the third step in a 100-point intricate dance.
“I don’t know if I’m going to appeal the preliminary injunction or wait for a final outcome in the case,” Scott said. “We’re evaluating our appellate options.”
From Maryland, Oxford House attorney Steven G. Polin expressed relief.
“We’re very happy about the court’s ruling,” Polin said.
They (Oxford House residents) don’t have to worry about not having a place to live.”
Polin noted that a preliminary injunction is not granted unless a judge finds that a party has demonstrated a likelihood of winning at trial.
Scott noted the judge’s ruling “doesn’t say 'permanent injunction,’ and it doesn’t say it affects every group home in the parish.”
But prior to his ruling, Brady said the dispute boils down to the question of whether Oxford House residents are considered handicapped under the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
The judge said Oxford House residents are likely to win the right to remain in single-family residential neighborhoods if they are considered handicapped under federal law. If not, Brady added last month, the city-parish would likely claim victory.
Brady wrote Thursday: “The court finds that Oxford House has sufficiently established, for the purposes of a preliminary injunction, that the residents of the Drusilla (Lane) and Shawn Drive Oxford Houses met the definition of handicapped under the FHA.”
Brady added that evidence received during a hearing June 29 “established that the residents are not currently using drugs and that steps are taken, such as random drug testing, to ensure that the residents are not using drugs.”
The judge also said: “The court is not persuaded that granting the requested accommodations for the Shawn Drive and Drusilla (Lane) homes would unduly burden the city or deform its ordinary zoning authority.”
City-parish officials were attempting to shut down the two Oxford House homes for women in the Westminster and Goodwood Villa neighborhoods on Drusilla Lane and Shawn Drive.
At least 12 other Oxford House homes are leased in Baton Rouge, court records show. Those homes are either solely for women or solely for men.
Oxford House was founded in 1975. Since then, it has helped recovering addicts and alcoholics establish more than 1,500 group homes. Residents must obtain employment, pay $400 per month toward the household lease and other expenses and immediately expel any member who resumes alcohol or drug use.
There is no permanent staff member at any Oxford House, and the homes are not licensed by any government agency.
However, some states, including Louisiana, contract with Oxford House to establish the group homes.
In Louisiana since 2004, the Department of Health and Hospitals has granted contracts totaling $1.25 million to pay the salaries and expenses of two Oxford House monitors who conduct random checks of 58 group homes across the state.
Oxford House officials have testified that group homes of six to 12 residents in stable neighborhoods help recovering addicts and alcoholics re-establish themselves in sober society. The large numbers ensure communal support and enable group members to continue paying the monthly lease when one or more of them leave.
“The court is not persuaded by (the city-parish) assertion that the residents’ present ability to be employed, pay bills and care for themselves defeats their qualification as handicapped,” Brady wrote.
“On the contrary, that the residents were previously unable to accomplish these tasks, but are currently able to do so merely underscores the ameliorative effects of the Oxford House environment,” the judge said.