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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 38

    Document Title
    The Extent To Which Local Zoning Ordinances In Virginia Accommodate Innovative Housing Initiatives For The Benefit Of Virginians With Mental Illness

    Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services

    Enabling Authority
    Appropriation Act - Item 311 V. (Special Session I, 2006)

    Executive Summary
    This paper is in response to the 2006 Virginia Acts of Assembly, Chapter 3, Item 311. V:

    "The Department of Menial Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services, with the assistance of the Department of Housing and Community Development, shall report on the extent to which local zoning ordinances in Virginia accommodate innovative housing initiatives for the benefit of Virginians with mental illness, such as Single Room Occupancy residential units, and shall investigate the availability of state or federal funds for such initiatives. The report shall also examine the feasibility of developing a model Virginia zoning ordinance that permits Single Room Occupancy residential units for persons with mental illness. The department shall report its findings to the Chairmen of the House Appropriation and Senate Finance Committees and the Joint Commission on Health Care by September 1, 2007."


    • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Virginia and Federal fair housing laws mandate accommodations for housing models that are more integrated into the community than nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and group homes.

    • Supportive housing is a successful, cost-effective and innovative combination of affordable housing with services that helps people with mental illness live more stable, productive lives.

    • There are a number of preferred housing models for supportive housing including Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residences.

    • Permanent supportive SRO housing has been credited with playing a key role in achieving recently reported reductions in urban homelessness, but Virginia’s plan to end homelessness has faltered, in part, due a lack of clear zoning allowances for SROs.

    • Review 97 Virginia localities’ ordinances found that only the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Virginia Beach defines SRO housing.

    • Virginia Beach’s ordinance and many other localities’ ordinances from around the country describe a variety of SRO models; providing examples for other Virginia’s localities to follow in order to accommodate this type of housing for low-income single individuals, including those with mental illness. Fairfax, Virginia is also in the process of amending its local zoning ordinances to include SROs.

    • The primary sources for supportive housing funds are through HUD homeless assistance grants and the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

    • Other sources include the cost-offsets of providing Supportive Housing to individuals who would otherwise require frequent expensive hospital-based care.


    There is no one model zoning ordinance for Single Room Occupancy units that would be appropriate for all Virginia localities, however the following recommendations are offered to permit and encourage their development:

    1. Supportive Housing models, such as SRO housing, should be defined in local comprehensive plans in addition to nursing homes and assisted living facilities as affordable housing for low-income single residents with disabilities pursuant to 15.2-2223 of the Code of Virginia.

    2. Streamlined review and approval processes for special use permits should be provided for in affordable dwelling unit ordinances to encourage development of Supportive 1—lousing models, such as SROs.

    3. Single Room Occupancy housing should be defined as affordable dwelling units in local zoning ordinances pursuant to 15.2-2304 and 15.2-2305 of the Code of Virginia.

    4. The General Assembly should consider amending 15.2-2304 of the Code of Virginia to make it apply to additional high population-density localities in Virginia, such as those with over 300 persons per square mile.

    5. Virginia should develop a statewide housing plan that includes Supportive Housing to meet the needs of Virginian’s with mental illness and encourages VHDA to provide additional incentives for SROs in its Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program and other housing development programs pursuant to 36-55.33:1 (D)(2)(e) and 36-55.33:2 of the Code of Virginia.

    6. The Department of Social Services should more broadly interpret 63.2-800 of the Code of Virginia to allow for auxiliary grants to be provided to eligible individuals with disabilities who prefer to live in Supportive Housing units, as opposed to assisted living facilities or adult foster care homes, to help offset the operating costs of such housing.

    7. Community Services Boards and Behavioral Health Authorities should develop joint written agreements with State and local housing agencies pursuant to 37.2-504 and 3 7.2-605 to provide for the appropriate individualized services required by residents of Supportive Housing programs within their jurisdiction.