CINCINNATI - The owner of seven halfway houses in Price Hill says he just wants to help recovering addicts, but Mayor John Cranley questions whether that's true.
Now Cranley has gone to court to shut down the houses, and the owner says he will file a federal lawsuit to stop him.
Ross Shively operates New Foundations Transitional Living, a for-profit company, out of rental properties he owns. The city says New Foundations is violating the zoning code by putting 12 to 15 people in each house on residential streets zoned for single families.
The city has given New Foundations 90 days to comply with the code. About 120 addicts live in those seven houses.
RELATED: Read city's complaint here or below
The houses are in neighborhoods around Elder and Seton High Schools. Two are within two blocks of the high schools. A third is just a few doors away from Resurrection School and Church.
At a news conference Friday, Cranley questioned Shively's motives, citing promotional material for a real estate seminar Shively gives.
"Housing people with, quote, special needs is, quote, incredibly profitable," Cranley said, "which calls into question whether his concerns are for the recovery needs of the tenants or whether he's trying to make money."
"I've never broken the law," Shively countered. "These houses are in complete compliance with what they should be.
"The city is in violation of the Federal Housing Act by trying to close us down," he said. "This is a civil rights issue.
"The mayor and the city attorney are using bullying tactics," Shively said.
"This is a NIMBY thing (Not In My Back Yard) with them.
"I'm going to bring my attorney into town and litigate."
Shively's attorney filed a response to the city's request for an injunction on Friday. Steven G. Pollin of Washington, D.C., claims New Foundations residents share a common disability and are "functionally equivalent " to a family, and the city should consider them as such.
Shively said he never thought to apply for a variance. In any case, his attorney reminded the city:
"You should be aware that it is a violation of the Fair Housing Act to prohibit the establishment of housing for persons for disabilities in residential zones without providing for a means to allow such programs an opportunity to obtain a reasonable accommodation in waiving, changing or modifying existing rules."
The city took action after getting complaints from neighbors near the New Foundations houses, Cranley said. The city Health Department has received complaints of bed bugs and roaches at New Foundations houses, he said.
Shively denied his properties have problems with neighbors or bugs.
"That's a lie," Shively said. "We work closely with everyone in the community. We've never had complaints. We've never had a lot of police calls. We're not on the nuisance list of 20 worst properties.
"Our properties are the best in Price Hill," he said.
Cincinnati police made 14 runs to the seven houses in the first 11 months of 2013 and none resulted in a police report, according to the police.
Four of the houses are in West Price Hill on West Eighth Street and Iliff, Gilsey and Harris avenues. The others are in East Price Hill on Seton, St. Lawrence and McPherson avenues.
Cranley also requested a temporary restraining order to stop an eighth house from opening on Rutledge Avenue in West Price Hill.
Cranley said he wants to help New Foundations residents find a new place to live if their houses are shut down.
He said he enlisted help from Neil F. Tilow, president and CEO of Talbert House, and Ivan Faske, chairman of the Greater Cincinnati Recovery Resource Collaborative.
Faske said all but 20 of the GCRRC's 300 beds are filled, but they would put New Foundations residents at the top of the list. GCRRC includes five non-profit agencies, Faske said.
Cranley also ordered New Foundations to implement “best practices” used in the recovery sector to ensure a safe environment for clients.
He said Talbert House and GCRRC have offered to help New Foundations provide structured programs to assist its clients with their recovery.