Editorial: group homes must maintain even higher appearance standards for suburban neighborhoods

The Daily Herald has an editorial that argues suburban group homes have to keep up even higher appearance standards matching their surrounding suburban neighborhood. The particular case involves a group home in Des Plaines who wanted to expand their facility from five to eight residents but the city rejected their proposal.

He described a facility that was poorly maintained, often appears to exceed its limit of five clients and allows its back yard to become covered in weeds and vines.

Tom Kucharski, who lives near the home, admitted that it made corrections to its appearance but only after “they were forced to do it.”

With group homes under consideration or being developed throughout the suburbs, most notably recently affecting Palatine, Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights and Buffalo Grove, this is just the type of experience a town should not have to hear. It is hard enough to overcome the unfounded fears and prejudices of potential neighbors to a group home, without having to face the additional burden of a shabby experience somewhere else…

But it is a sad truth that existing facilities must go above and beyond expectations of high-quality maintenance and neighborliness if that idealistic vision is to become reality. And the day will never come if homes permit themselves to be perceived as a neighborhood nuisance or eyesore.

Here is what I think the argument is saying:

1. Suburbanites don’t generally like the idea of having a group home for the developmentally disabled in their residential neighborhood. The Daily Herald wishes this were not the case.

2. Yet, the newspaper understands why neighbors would be opposed to the expansion of this facility because they have not kept up their property. (I would be interested to know if the interior was kept up or whether it was just the outside that was disheveled.)

3. The editorial concludes that such group homes actually have to go above and beyond typical standards to convince people that they could and should be built in residential neighborhoods. The editorial laments this “sad-but-real duty.” But, the editorial comes off as then attacking this particular group home, with some justification, and then saying it and other group homes should do extra work to change the opinions of NIMBY-minded neighbors.

It seems like the editorial wants it both ways: suburbs should approve more of these homes but the homes have to be immaculate so that they all don’t get a bad reputation. Here are a few alternative ways this might be addressed:

1. Thinking through why suburbanites don’t want group homes in their neighborhood in the first place. Do the suburbanites “win” in this case because the group home “failed” its duty? Could there be some way of setting up a structure that helps the neighborhood take ownership for this facility or having broader community groups sponsor these homes in order to help maintain the facilities?

2. Could municipalities move more quickly in asking facilities to clean up or have stricter standards for these particular zoning uses? This way, the rules are very clear from the outset: you need to follow these guidelines or you will get major fines. With clearer and more quickly enforced guidelines, you don’t let it get to a point where the whole backyard is full of vines and weeds.

Perhaps we can think about it in another way – let’s put it in racial terms. Let’s say an immigrant family moves into a generally nice suburban neighborhood. Over a few years, this family lets their yard deteriorate. The neighbors start complaining. It takes a while for the city to act. Eventually, the neighborhood has a chillier reception for another immigrant family who wants to move in because they assume this new family will have the same traits. Would the Daily Herald say it is the responsibility of the immigrant families to be even cleaner and more middle-class than their neighbors to convince them? (I realize this isn’t a perfect analogy…)

I can’t help but feel that the Daily Herald is suggesting that middle-class suburban values should always win out.

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