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April 21, 2014

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Henderson:

Homeless in Serene Country Estates prompt action from city

Last year's discovery that two homes in Serene Country Estates were housing several homeless people has prompted Henderson to draw up a new ordinance that would prevent the practice.

The new zoning ordinance, which would redefine the number of occupants allowed in a single-family home, received a unanimously favorable recommendation Thursday night from the Planning Commission. It is scheduled to go before the City Council March 3.

After residents in Serene Country Estates complained in June about what was happening in the two homes, city attorneys reviewed Henderson's single-family housing ordinance and determined that it was problematic, because it allows up to 10 unrelated people to live together in a single-family home.

"After researching the law in this area, it is my opinion that our ordinance can and should be amended in order to provide that a group of people living in the same household must function as at least a functional family unit, such that transient people living together merely as a result of a government program would not qualify as living in a single-family residence," Assistant City Attorney Ron Sailon wrote in a memo to the city's Community Development Department.

The ordinance being considered would require the residents of a single-family residence to meet the city's definition of a "family unit," which could be one of three definitions: any number of related people and no more than two unrelated persons; four unrelated people; or two unrelated people and any minor children related to either of them.

In the two homes in Serene Country Estates, homeless individuals were placed by a property management company, which found them on the street and took them to Clark County Social Services to apply for a rental voucher. If approved, the individuals were put up in the homes for up to three months while they looked for work and permanent lodgings.

The practice was legal because of the way the ordinance is written, but it raised concerns among city officials after some Serene Country Estates residents complained that they were being confronted and threatened by the occupants of the two homes.

In his memo, Sailon wrote that, while cities aren't allowed to define family units as traditional nuclear families, the courts have upheld their efforts to uphold family environments by limiting single-family homes to stable groups.

"This suggested definition of a family unit promotes a sense of community, sanctity of family, quiet and peaceful neighborhoods, low population, limited congestion of motor vehicles and controlled transiency," Sailon wrote. "These are valid zoning objectives."

The ordinance would preclude "any society, club, fraternity, sorority, lodge, organization or group where people come and go on a transient basis or where the relationship is merely based on a commercial basis" from residing in a single-family home.

Jeremy Twitchell can be reached at 990-8928 or [email protected].

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