CINCINNATI – Don Strunk says he wouldn't protest if recovering addicts lived on his street as long as they followed the law.
But when Strunk discovered that New Foundations Transitional Living was planning to move in down the block, he blew the whistle.
The city says New Foundations is violating zoning code by putting 12 to 15 recovering addicts into houses zoned for one or two families.
Strunk lives 100 yards from the two-family home on Rutledge Avenue where New Foundations wants to open an eighth house for recovering addicts.
Pete Witte, former longtime president of the Price Hill Civic Association, said New Foundations owner Ross Shively had been "operating under a cloak of darkness" since he started moving addicts into Price Hill rental property Shively owns four years ago.
"Nobody knew what he was doing. He never sought a variance, and he's a real estate man, so he should have known," Witte said about Shively.
"But he made a big mistake when he tried to set up shop on one of Price Hill's best streets.
"They're homeowners and a lot of them have children. The other streets where he set up are in decline. They don't have solid landlords or ownership, so he was able to operate in the dark.
"When you go into an area with young families and long-established homeowners, somebody's going to speak up."
That somebody was Strunk.
Strunk said neighbors confronted Shively about the house on Rutledge, two blocks from St. William School and Church, after Shively bought it in February and started rehabbing it.
"They didn't have a permit and they were pounding away at 3 in the morning and burning garbage in the backyard," Strunk said.
"He lied. He said he was going to live there himself in one unit and rent the other. He was going to flip it," Strunk said.
Strunk sounded the alarm and the city responded by going to court to stop Shively from moving onto Rutledge. Mayor John Cranley also gave him 90 days to comply with code or see his seven other houses shut down.
Since then, Shively and Cranley have heated up the airwaves with rhetoric. Shively says he's going to file a federal lawsuit against the city, and New Foundations scheduled a Recovery Is Not A Crime Rally Monday morning at City Hall.
Strunk said he started a petition Friday and got 200 neighbors' signatures supporting Cranley's effort.
"And that's just in two days," he said.
RELATED: Read the petition
"I give Cranley credit. He has really stepped up on this," Strunk said.
"We're not against helping people. We're just against the way he (Shively) is doing it," Strunk said.
"This is not a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) thing like he says. There are several other agencies operating in Price Hill. He's trying to get around the law by saying these addicts are families and using the Fair Housing Act.
"And now he's playing the media game."
Witte said he opposes Shively's operation on two fronts.
"Clearly it's a zoning violation and the city needs to enforce that," he said. "From a neighborhood perspective, I believe the concentration - seven houses in a five-block area – is horrible.
"I don't see how it's going to help Price Hill get better."
The New Foundations houses surround 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.
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 those 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 questioned Friday whether Shively is more interested in making a profit or helping the 120 or so addicts in his houses.
New Foundations is not a non-profit like traditional recovery agencies. Shively charges rent - $87 per week or $322 per month – and fees, according to his website.
And New Foundations does not provide treatment for residents.
"They are already clean and sober and don't need treatment," Director of Operations Jason Lee Overbey said in a news release.
RELATED: Read Overbey's news release
The houses provide support and a safe environment for maintaining abstinence and making a recovery, according to the house rules. They do not accept sex offenders, arsonists or anyone with open warrants.
"As such, we have rules and discipline in place to help to you progress and get a whole new life," the house rules state.
RELATED: See the house rules
That approach and its for-profit status put New Foundations out of the mainstream and in direct opposition to the city's traditional non-profit recovery agencies.
Cranley clearly favors the old way and not the New Foundations way.
As a second condition for staying open, Cranley ordered Shively to implement “best practices” used in the recovery sector to ensure a safe environment for clients.
Cranley 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. The collaborative consists of five non-profit agencies.
When contacted by WCPO, Faske was reluctant to criticize or even challenge New Foundations, saying he was mainly concerned about making sure New Foundations' 120 residents had a place to go if the city shuts down their operation.
Faske said all but 20 of the collaborative's 300 beds are filled, but they would put New Foundations residents at the top of the list.
But Faske did say the state is writing new standards for different classifications of recovery agencies and New Foundations "would not qualify."
"They're trying to help. They're just not going about it in the best way," Faske said.
Overbey told the gathering at City Hall Monday that he hasn't done anything illegal and he's willing to do whatever he needs to do to stay open.
"There's nowhere else in this city for those residents to go. Serenity House is full, Prospect House is full, Talbert House is full -- they're currently sending people to us now because they're full. These people aren't homeless. They have a place in Price Hill," Overbey said.