Amistad Residential Facility
SAN ANTONIO – A deadly group home fire two weeks ago has ignited a fire at city hall. City officials are finally crafting a new ordinance designed to regulate certain group homes, like the one that burned up on Norwood Avenue.
“It will be primarily code-related, some registration and licensing and building codes. We won’t get into the quality of health care, that’s really not the function,” said city attorney, Michael Bernard.
Officials are estimating they could have 300 unlicensed group homes across San Antonio and they can’t say when any of them have been inspected.
In the meantime, sources say some boarding homes may be getting impromptu visits by code compliance officers.
In August four mentally-disabled men died in a fire at the Amistad. The home had been cited for 7 violations, including fire code issues, in its last inspection in 2010. That year the state of Texas dropped license requirements for these types of facilities. That’s when the home fell off the state’s radar and began operating without any oversight.
“To me it’s pretty pathetic that the state level, and the county and city level - it has gone all these years without any type of monitoring of these homes,” said Arthur Valdez, a representative with the Texas State Employees Union.
The union represents state mental health workers and is clamoring for the city to take charge of regulating these quasi-assisted living facilities.
The union met with members of the San Antonio City Council to ask them to fund a process for checking on the safety and welfare of disabled or mentally-challenged individuals, especially those living in boarding homes.
But Bernard said the process of crafting an ordinance is a cautious one.
The draft measure focuses on fire and electricity codes - not health care. Bernard said any new city ordinance would have to tiptoe around violating a disabled person’s rights to fair housing.
“So, if there’s a group home in a neighborhood, can you require more of that group home than its neighbors’ homes? That’s ultimately the question. That’s a little over-simplistic, but when you get down to it, that’s the question,” said Bernard.
In the preliminary draft, safety checks would be shared between code compliance and city fire marshal inspectors.
The costs for implementing a new ordinance is expected to approach a million dollars--money that wasn’t originally included in the city manager’s budget proposal.