David McGill and Home Manager Kristi Anderson sweep the front porch of an East Tennessee Community Homes residence. At these homes for people with intellectual disabilities, residents and their care providers carry out daily living tasks traditionally associated with community living, like landscaping and upkeep.
State officials say they often meet opposition to plans for new homes for intellectually disabled people in established neighborhoods, but local residents have no cause for alarm.
Leaders at the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities say the intermediate care facilities that double as permanent homes for people with disabilities are committed to “good neighbor practices,” and that studies have shown that such homes do not decrease nearby properties’ values or cause a spike in crime.
“The concerns you heard from residents [Thursday] are almost identical to the concerns voiced at every community meeting, prior to construction, about a home for people with disabilities,” said Cara Kumari, communications director for DIDD. She issued her comments after several Greeneville residents attended a public hearing to express opposition to plans to construct a new home on Old Shiloh Road for four longtime Greene Valley Developmental Center residents.
“However, in our experience with building the state homes, while many residents who live nearby have voiced those concerns prior to the construction of the home, they have had no problems once the homes are built and the people have moved in,” she added.
A DIDD publication on the topic, called “Good Neighbors & Healthy Communities,” serves as “a community guide to fair housing for people with disabilities in your neighborhood.”
The information it contains addresses a number of issues, including several raised at Thursday’s public hearing, like belief that homes for disabled people lower nearby property values or lead to an increase in crime.
While the booklet has traditionally been distributed in Middle and West Tennessee, DIDD intends to publish the information online and begin distributing physical copies in East Tennessee, including Greeneville, Kumari said.
It aims to dispel “misconceptions about people with disabilities as neighbors” while explaining state and federal laws regarding housing discrimination.
According to the brochure, “probably the most commonly-stated concern is that the construction and existence of a home for people with intellectual disabilities will cause the decline of property values. However, research does not support this idea.”
DIDD maintains that studies of real estate appraisals indicate no evidence that the presence of homes for intellectually disabled persons negatively impacts the sale prices of nearby homes. It also says that such homes are well maintained with landscaped lawns.
Another often expressed concern is that such homes are linked to an increase in crime in the area. That issue was also raised at Thursday’s public hearing.
“Extensive research done on this subject does not support the idea that these homes adversely affect a neighborhood’s crime rate,” the DIDD publication states, adding, “The staff hired to work in these homes are extensively screened and trained and the home receives frequent supervisory visits.”
Another concern voiced Thursday and addressed in the booklet relates to “confusion” about whether a community home for disabled persons is operating as a business in a single-family neighborhood.
“Although this home is owned and operated by the State of Tennessee or a contracted community partner, it is, first and foremost, a home for the people with intellectual disabilities who will live there,” the brochure states.
It further explains that Tennessee State Zoning Law removes “any zoning obstacles which prevent persons with a disability from living in normal residential surroundings.”
As such, the classification “single family residence” includes any home in which eight or fewer unrelated persons with disabilities reside, such as the 16 East Tennessee Community Homes facilities already constructed and operating in Greeneville and Greene County and the proposed home on Old Shiloh Road, to be operated by Sunrise Community Services of Tennessee Inc., that was the subject of Thursday’s public hearing.
During that gathering, several who spoke in opposition to the project noted that the proposal falls in a neighborhood considered to be on the “upper end,” financially.
Asked about similar homes in affluent neighborhoods in other areas of the state, Kumari said, “I can say that we always look for safe neighborhoods with available property when locating a facility. If this indeed is an affluent neighborhood with prominent families living there, like you mentioned, then we find it disappointing that, as role models in the community, they are unwilling to embrace people with disabilities living near them.
“We are positive, in time, they will eventually come to see how beneficial it is to have people with disabilities as neighbors.”
The booklet outlines steps neighbors can take to express concerns related to the homes.
“The people with intellectual disabilities living in the community and their staff must be law-abiding citizens. They do not have the right to trespass, disturb the peace or break any ordinances,” the brochure says.
It also provides contact information for state officials who field concerns about community homes for disabled persons in each of the state’s three divisions.
“These homes provide a safe, structured, permanent place in which people with disabilities can live,” the brochure concludes. “When a society is able to provide for the basic needs of its people, ultimately, everyone benefits.”