City not even part of the way toward solving illegal halfway house crisis

There are dozens of illegal halfway houses popping up like dandelions in the west end.
Published: Aug. 6, 2019 at 7:47 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - This is a story many don’t want you to see. But this is a story many are seeing too much.

Large, formerly abandoned houses, filled with 10 to 20 tenants, spilling out into the neighborhood, attracting prostitutes, severely impaired people, drug dealers doing transactions through car windows, and police officers responding to it all.

At the root of it are people desperately trying to recover from alcohol or drug addiction.

“I moved in after I had a truck wreck drinking and driving and he let me come stay here,” halfway house resident Quentin Hobbs said. “From a tent to here.”

Hobbs was one of 16 men living and recovering in the Gratitude House at 26th and Chestnut streets. It’s one of dozens of illegal halfway houses popping up like dandelions in the west end.

“You’ve had a housing crisis where investors have capitalized on it, and there’s an opportunity to get property very affordable and with the intent of making money,” District 5 Metro Councilwoman Donna Purvis said. “So you can take a house with normally three to five people living in it, and divide it and divide it, put anywhere from 10-20 people in these houses, charge $80-$100 per week in addition to, if some of them are eligible, charging Medicaid for housing these people with disabilities.”

Metro Councilwoman Donna Purvis said she’s averaging two calls a day from people reporting new...
Metro Councilwoman Donna Purvis said she’s averaging two calls a day from people reporting new illegal halfway houses in her district. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

Purvis said she’s averaging two calls a day from people reporting new ones in her district. She pinned on a map the houses she has confirmed are not legal because they have not obtained a conditional use permit from the city Planning & Zoning Department. There are seven illegal halfway houses on her map at 26th and Chestnut.

Metro Council President David James said he has confirmed about 50 illegal halfway houses in his District 6.

“We have these houses popping up so often because they’re operating under the radar,” James said. “It’s not like they’re coming down to Planning & Zoning and saying, ‘Hey, I’d like to open a rehab, treatment center, halfway house.’ They’re just doing it.”

Just like WAVE 3 News did, Purvis hired a private detective to record what’s going on.

The transitional house at 315 Southwestern Parkway that Purvis said is not legal was filled with people moving in and out and had three sex offenders living there. It’s right across the street from a public park with kids playing all around it.

The man who identified himself as the manager, Bill Ervin, said it isn’t a halfway house, and doesn’t have sex offenders. So WAVE 3 News printed out the state police registry and went back.

“There are three people including you that are sex offenders,” I said. “You said there were no sex offenders here.”

"It shouldn’t be,” Ervin said.

“What do you mean?” I said. “You’re one.”

At that point, Ervin exploded and grabbing my camera.

“Look, it’s been over 30 f***ing years and I have a right to be here,” Ervin said as he went inside and closed the door. “Get that camera out of here.”

WAVE 3 News got a completely different response from the man running the illegal halfway house at 26th and Chestnut.

“I was attacked and accused of bringing, drawing prostitutes to the area,” said Jean Manganaro, founder of Fed with Faith. “So the lowest of the low, the street prostitute, I’m not supposed to help her? I’m not supposed to give her clean clothes? I’m not supposed to give her a shower? I’m not supposed to show her some love because my neighbors don’t want them around? Guilty as charged. I attract prostitutes. I don’t care. There’s a liquor store across the street here, 13 drinking establishments and liquor stores on 26th Street. Where was the public outrage when they’re selling liquor, tobacco, lottery tickets? But if you try to do something good and offer something to the community, that’s a problem, you’re causing trouble here. I’ve shown this community nothing but love.”

“I’m not against helping people,” James said. “I believe we should help people, but I don’t believe all the help should occur in one part of the city.”

So, what can be done about this?

James is working with the county attorney to enact a moratorium in certain districts on transitional houses. Other than that, the two zoning department inspectors in this city will try to keep up with it all, and cite violators, to get them into compliance.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.