Westlake Sober Living Home Dead End With Homeowners Association
Austinite Adam Shelby is looking forward to February 1st. This date will mark his first year of sobriety.
The 38-year-old fight veteran said he hit rock bottom after experiencing the suicide of his best friend, a breakup with his fiancée and a motorcycle accident, all in the same day, which ultimately led to closing his social media management business. His addiction issues began years earlier when he served overseas in the US military and became an alcoholic upon his return to the United States. Shelby recovered from this enemy only to face drug addiction as a new demon.
At one point he attempted suicide and woke up in the hospital hooked up to machines. Shelby said doctors were amazed that he survived the incident and told him, “You’ve been given a second chance; you have to change your life. He heeded their advice, sought help in a rehab program for five months, then sought his next step – a sober living facility. Shelby said he found it difficult to find a local home whose residents should be responsible for a clean lifestyle. Most of the programs he found had clients who still used drugs and alcohol despite being in an environment that did not allow this type of behavior.
Then he found Harmony Haus.
Shelby was a member of the group’s Hyde Park home before becoming the first guest of Harmony Haus Westlake, located in the Parkstone neighborhood near Loop 360. The six-bedroom, 4,500-square-foot property opened in October and provides a sober living environment, a refuge for people in recovery after successfully completing drug treatment and before they are able to lead a sober life on their own.
Shelby calls his fellow citizens “the brotherhood” he needs to stay sober, a vital part of his recovery.
“To me, especially with my drug of choice, sobriety means the difference between life and death,” he said, noting that three of his friends died of opioid overdoses in November. “It’s an everyday thing for me to wake up and say, ‘Today I’m going to do whatever I have to do to stay sober and clean.'”
Now, Shelby works in addiction recovery and wellness. Although he doesn’t have the wealth he once had as an entrepreneur, he said he is the happiest he has ever been.
Since October, Harmony Haus Westlake, along with the owners of the house it rents, has been embroiled in lawsuits with the Parkstone Property Owners Association over the number of residents allowed to live in the new facility. The case went before U.S. Federal Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez on Monday and Tuesday, with a verdict pending after both sides file post-trial briefs in the coming weeks.
The federal Fair Housing Act states that cities must provide “reasonable accommodation” to people with disabilities. This housing must also be “necessary” so that individuals have equal access to housing.
Harmony Haus has argued that people recovering from drug addiction are persons with disabilities requiring protection under this federal law, and its new Parkstone home, located at 2105 Real Catorce, Austin, received approval on 30 September from the City of Austin for 12 residents to be housed in the facility. Its leaders, including founder Dan Ragette, signed a five-year lease for the property and welcomed the home’s first occupants on October 13.
Parkstone allows only single-family residences and prohibits lodging houses in its community. Citing traffic safety concerns as well as additional noise and neighborhood aesthetic concerns, Parkstone declined to accommodate 12 residents at the facility, arguing that in that case, if FHA provisions apply, “reasonable accommodation” can be achieved with just six residents. .
Parkstone’s pleadings describe the private, gated neighborhood as “a quiet, clean, eco-friendly community” and “a special place for its calming ambience and aesthetic appeal,” but that 12 cars coming and going “creates levels of noise and traffic incompatible with the residential character of the neighborhood.”
In his statement, long-time resident and Parkstone board member Brian Pye said he heard from neighbors who were concerned that a large number of residents living in a house would increase traffic and create an environment dangerous for children crossing the street, playing, or riding a bicycle or scooter.
Since Harmony Haus expected 12 cars to be associated with its 12 residents, eight cars must be parked on the street since the house’s garage and driveway can only accommodate four vehicles.
Additionally, Parkstone does not allow on-street parking for more than 12 hours at a time. Pye and Jennifer McGrew, another owner of Parkstone in the Real Catorce area, testified at trial that vehicles were parked on the street outside Harmony Haus in violation of this provision, with McGrew citing one particular truck that had idled in front of the home for long periods.
Parkstone attorney Eric Hansum said the double-parked vehicles violate Austin’s fire code. They narrow the roadway, creating a safety concern for school buses, emergency vehicles or local drivers whose line of sight might be blocked, he said. Additionally, because Harmony Haus is located near an entrance to the Barton Creek Greenbelt, cars often block the driveway, creating visibility issues for trail users and a potential hazard. traffic accidents, he said.
Hansum also argued that the house’s large number of residents would tax community resources in its common areas, resulting in higher road maintenance costs for residents who own the private roads inside its gates. He presented evidence that homes in Parkstone occupy, on average, just over three residents per home, with an average of two drivers per dwelling. Parkstone’s pleadings said 12 residents housing 12 vehicles “constitutes a substantial deviation from those numbers” and would convert the road to a one-way lane for the duration of the lease.
“Increased parking and traffic would detract from the character of the neighborhood by making the residence look like some sort of retail or commercial business…turning a quiet residential street into a parking lot and a single-family residence into a rooming house,” said the pleadings stated.
At trial, Hansum testified that there are a large number of sober living homes in Austin that operate effectively with seven residents or fewer, and that number was found to meet FHA requirements. By limiting Harmony Haus to six occupants, the facility would not unduly burden other Parkstone residents and the business could still be profitable, he said.
But an establishment of just six house members doesn’t fit the for-profit model Harmony Haus has created to succeed, its lawyers Mark Whitburn, director of local firm Whitburn & Pevsner, PLLC, and Christopher McGreal, attorney for Dallas. Texas rights, argued.
“We need a community here and six (residents) is not enough for a community,” he said.
Ragette’s model puts two residents in each bedroom, with 12 residents needed to fill the six bedrooms of the Westlake house.
“We want everyone to have a roommate so you always have someone to talk to, you always have someone to hold you accountable, you have camaraderie, you have camaraderie,” he said . “The opposite of addiction is connection. Typically, when you’re in an active addiction, you isolate yourself because all your mind wants is to use drugs. … So learning to reintegrate into society, being with people again, having the connection and learning to respect each other and deal with issues that arise in housing (are important).
Ragette said he chose Parkstone for the business because the upscale community could accommodate recovering executives and professionals, a facility model the Austin area lacked.
After reviewing a financial statement for Harmony Haus, Rodriguez said the group appeared to be breaking even with fewer house members. Ragette agreed and said he and his two partners had already spent over $100,000 just to get the house ready for its tenants.
The facility charges guests $2,000 a month, and many residents stay an average of six to seven months, Ragette said.
Currently, the home has six residents and is planning a seventh guest later this month, Ragette said. Granted, he said the facility isn’t foolproof for recovery and has known a few residents who relapsed and were forced out of the house.
According to his pleadings, there is no history of a halfway house or sober home trying to operate in Parkstone so far. Harmony Haus had previously applied for reasonable accommodation to buy a house in Rollingwood to serve as a sober living space, but the house was sold to another buyer.