In a 4-to-1 vote Monday evening, the Board of Zoning Adjustment denied a conditional use permit for Driven Purpose, a transitional living facility for women in drug recovery that operated illegally at 4610 W. Market St. for 18 months.
“I think it’s progress for us,” said Bonnie Cole, president of the Shawnee Neighborhood Association, adding that the business partners Jason Smith and Amanda Scott didn’t reach out to the nearby residents before opening Driven Purpose and lied to residents.
This is just the start, Cole said.
“In three blocks, we have six homes that is illegal and shouldn’t be there,” she said, including a men’s transitional, or sober living house, at the former Fuller Center, 4509 W. Market St., which is operating without a permit as well.
Opponents argue that people who don’t live in west Louisville are coming in, buying cheap houses, turning them into transitional living facilities and taking advantage of people recovering from addiction or trying to re-enter the world after a stint in prison — without any regulation or oversight.
“The idea wasn’t to go there and sneak under the radar,” Smith said, arguing that they believed they were in compliance before they were told that Driven Purpose needed a conditional use permit.
Leading up to last night’s hearing, Smith said they had ceased operations as a sober living facility, and some of the women were simply renting the house. It is unclear if they will continue to do so.
Several women who lived at Driven Purpose spoke about the positive experience they had and how the experience helped them learn accountability and structure as they sought to transition back into society. Smith said Driven Purpose housed eight women, plus a “house mother,” in the 1,335-square-foot house in Shawnee and charged each $100 a week. His business partner, Scott, asserted that they worked with the women if they couldn’t make rent but were still committed to sobriety.
Resident John Owen questioned the altruism of charging $100 a week, noting during the Board of Zoning Adjustment meeting Monday night that he pays under $700 a month in rent for a full house in the Portland neighborhood, which abuts Shawnee.
Sam Rose, a community health coordinator for the Metro Public Health Department, said she is aware of 90 transitional living houses, the majority of which reside in west Louisville neighborhoods. “But I am sure there are a lot not on my list,” Rose said.
There are currently no regulations in place for transitional living facilities, which often are run by others in recovery, not health care professionals, and many operate without a conditional use permit, making it hard to track just how many there are in Louisville. The city is working on an ordinance to regulate unlicensed sober living houses, but west Louisville residents have said that the process is not moving fast enough.
“These do not bring any benefit whatsoever to the neighborhood,” said a resident, Laverne Russell.
After applauding the women’s efforts to become sober and maintain sobriety, multiple speakers stated that the cropping up of transitional housing, whether operating legally or illegally, is just another example of west Louisville neighborhoods being used as a dumping ground for undesirable businesses and operations. If these were opening in Cherokee Triangle, the Highlands or in Smith’s Clifton neighborhood, then residents — who have more means — would rise up, and they’d be quickly extinguished, speakers said.
“It is becoming a problem for residents in these neighborhoods,” said Metro Councilwoman Donna Purvis, D-5, adding she has a hard time believing Driven Purpose’s mission to help women in recovery given that a liquor store is located across the street. Residents “are tired.”