Editor's note: This article has been updated to eliminate any confusion over which Denton City Council member represents the Southridge neighborhood.
When word spread that a mental health living facility was coming to the quiet and tranquil Southridge neighborhood, some residents were quick to raise concerns. How could they not? The zoning for their area, R2, doesn’t allow for living facilities or group homes — even with a special-use permit.
They reached out to Denton City Council member Alison Maguire, who didn’t seem familiar with the idea. The owner of the house, Patrick Moneke, had never approached the council about it or planning and zoning. Moneke, who is the CEO of Diadem Hearts Inc., previously told the Denton Record-Chronicle that he operates several locations around North Texas and that Denton was the only city where he didn’t check to make sure zoning allowed for it.
Yet other cities’ planning departments show that, as of Monday evening, Moneke hadn’t received a special-use permit for facilities in their locations. The Woodway Planning Department didn’t even know there was such a facility in the community.
“It is not a group home,” Moneke told the Record-Chronicle for a story published Wednesday. “It is a supervised living facility. All the cities where we have homes are like that. The neighborhood [does] not know. They go to appointments and come back and don’t bother anybody. They have 24-hour supervision and go to doctors’ appointments, and some of them got jobs like every other person.”
Jennifer Ruffcorn, Health and Human Services assistant press officer, wrote in a follow-up email Wednesday afternoon: “This provider has a contract with HHSC to provide shorter term behavioral health services in these supervised living group homes.”
She said Diadem Hearts contracts with the state as a certified HCBS-AMH (Home and Community-Based Service — Adult Mental Health) provider and serves individuals with serious mental illness in the communities of their choosing. It is also a state-licensed provider as a HCSSA (Home and Community Support Services Agency) to serve individuals needing long-term care services.
Another service Diadem Hearts provides, Ruffcorn said, is personal attendant services (PAS) — such as bathing, eating, dressing, etc. — for clients in their own home or other settings. It has 14 violations related to its personal attendant services from Oct. 8, 2021, that they have yet to correct, according to HHSC.
Before last week’s story was published, the Record-Chronicle was unable to get hold of Moneke again to discuss the discrepancies between what he claimed and what the cities showed. He said he was on vacation with his family in a Thursday afternoon phone call. He refused to discuss what he is doing in other cities and wanted to focus only on Denton.
“I don’t have time, really don’t have so much time,” Moneke said. “I may sell it [the Southridge property] or keep it. Not sure what to do with the house.”
When pressed about the group home claim, Moneke clarified that they are group homes, as the social worker for Diadem Hearts told the Record-Chronicle in Wednesday’s report. He said he simply prefers to call them assisted living facilities because a group home is open to a broad definition.
What constitutes a ‘group home’
Lawyers Monte Akers and Jason D. King of Akers & Boulware-Wells LLP wrote in a 2011 paper titled “Municipal Regulation of Group Homes” that despite what they believed in years prior, “there is no single definition of ‘group home’ under either state or federal law. To make matters worse, under Texas law there are at least 24 types of homes, houses, centers, and other facilities, probably more, that may qualify as a group home,” including foster homes, boarding homes and child care facilities.
“Obviously, some types of group homes, such as day care centers, are not likely to create concern from neighbors or a city council, while others, such as a state jail felony facility, are not likely to be proposed for location in a residential area of a city,” the authors wrote in their 2011 paper. “Other facilities, however, such as assisted living facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, or any of the myriad of halfway houses are very likely to encounter local opposition” — as in the case of Southridge.
In the paper, Akers and King claimed cities must be flexible when applying zoning restrictions to disabled persons living in group homes and must tailor zoning provisions to disabled people’s needs and the establishment of group homes, as long as it doesn’t impose undue burden on the city.
They also pointed out that a group home owner, such as Moneke, or a disabled person may request a “reasonable accommodation” in a local ordinance, based on the requirement in the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. If the city refuses, officials may find themselves facing an illegal discrimination charge under the FHAA.
“The implication of the reasonable accommodation requirement is that a jurisdiction must sufficiently broaden its zoning rules and regulations to allow the establishment of sufficient community residences to accommodate handicapped citizens who want to live in a ‘homestyle’ setting, rather than in an institutional environment,” the lawyers wrote.
Chapter 123 of the Texas Human Resources Code defines “community homes for persons with disabilities.” Such homes can house people who have any of a broad list of disabilities and conditions, including visual, speech or hearing impairments, an intellectual disability, mental illness, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease and more.
The state code specifies that a community-based residential home must be operated by the Department of Aging and Disability Services; a community center organized under the Health and Safety Code to serve people with disabilities; a nonprofit corporation; a provider certified by the Department of Aging and Disability Services under the Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with an Intellectual Disability or Related Conditions medical assistance program; or an assisted living facility licensed under Chapter 247 of the Health and Safety Code.
The code states that a community home must provide its residents with food and shelter, personal guidance, care, habilitation services and supervision. Also, it must not house more than six persons with disabilities and two supervisors.
According to Denton’s Development Code, the R2 zoning in Southridge does allow for a community home.
Chapter 123 includes a section titled “Zoning and Restriction Discrimination Against Community Homes Prohibited.” A qualifying community home is “a use by right that is authorized in any district zoned as residential.”
In their paper, Akers and King mention a number of reasons a city might require the owner or operator to at least register the home with the city:
- Helping protect the home’s residents from people who may take advantage of them.
- Maintaining adequate health and safety standards for residents.
- Ensuring that adequate fire, police or emergency response vehicles or patrols are available.
- Identifying and facilitating appropriate responses for residents who may require special assistance in an emergency.
On July 8, Denton city staff spoke with Moneke, who said his intent was to provide a six-bedroom home for six individuals referred by the state and that, according to state requirements, for every four individuals, a full-time caregiver would be at the property.
“Staff are currently conferring with the State to understand the nature and status of the property owner’s proposed operation and, when confirmed, will evaluate it against our zoning ordinance to determine what uses are allowable if any,” city staff wrote in a Friday staff report. “In the meantime, the property is currently in an incomplete state of construction and, until the construction work can be inspected and approved by the City, the property may only be used as a single-family home.”
When contacted Friday afternoon, council member Maguire, who represents Southridge, said there haven’t been any updates on Moneke’s Southridge location from neighbors.