Since 2006, the City House nonprofit has offered shelter for homeless kids and young adults in two houses in Plano, smack in the middle of residential neighborhoods. City House claims the kids' neighbors never seemed to mind. How does City House pull this off? By operating out of existing houses that look just like all the other nice houses on the street.
"When you drive down the street you shouldn't notice" a difference, says City House spokesman Rob Scichili. "It's a normal house in a normal neighborhood, and that's the way we operate."
City House, a Collin County-based homeless nonprofit that has been around in some form since 1988, is now trying to expand its shelter program into Frisco. The nonprofit purchased a house in April in the Plantation Resort neighborhood and renovated it with a $47,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with plans to shelter females between the ages of 16 to 21. City House planned to open its doors sometime this month, with two females already set to move in. But now "that time table has been suspended," Scichili says.
That's because the Department of Housing and Urban Development's approval is no match for the local homeowners association. At the end of August, a bunch of anonymous Frisco homeowners, described by their attorneys only as the Board of Directors for the PR2 Homeowners association, filed a lawsuit against City House, alleging that providing shelter to homeless teens violates the HOA's covenants.
"No activity, whether for profit or not, shall be conducted which is not related to single-family residential purposes," says the HOA in the suit, quoting its covenants. The covenants do make some exceptions for non-family activities that tend to be popular with suburbanites. "Nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit an owner's use of residence for quiet, inoffensive activities," the covenants say, "such as tutoring or giving music or art lessons."
A judge has responded with a temporary injunction, and City House and its attorneys say they're trying to work something out.
The HOA board first contacted City House on July 1, in a letter written by the HOA's attorneys. "The Board of Directors has requested that we write to you," the letter begins, without identifying who those directors are.
"On behalf of the Board of Directors, you are hereby to cease operating the business on your property," the letter goes on. The attorneys give City House 30 days to comply or risk fines. "The association regrets having to engage legal counsel to communicate with you concerning this matter," the letter ends apologetically. "However, the property values and residential quality of the community are important, and the Board of Directors must enforce covenants and preserve property values."
City House's attorneys initially responded to the HOA's legal team that they weren't breaking any HOA covenants. The HOA's attorneys sent back more letters, demanding to know if the house would shelter teens, but the City House attorneys didn't address that, only promising that nothing about the house violated any HOA rules.
"We have a fundamental disagreement over single-family-residential use or purpose," says Monica Velazquez, one of the lawyers representing City House.
The city of Frisco says it's staying out of the fight, as "Frisco is not a party to the contract or the lawsuit," city spokesman Dana Baird says in a statement.
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Trying to get ahold of the actual HOA for comment has been hard. The website for the Plantation Resort No. 2 Owners Association does not list the Board of Directors. The only contact information provided is a phone number for Principal Management Group of North Texas, a firm that manages a bunch of HOAs and is affiliated with Associa, the large HOA management firm headed by Texas State Senator John Carona.
Billy Rudolph, an Associa spokesman, says he didn't have any specific information about this particular HOA and couldn't comment on it anyway. "That board of trustees might be intentionally trying to avoid the media," he says. The HOA's lawyers at Riddle & Williams also haven't returned messages.
Perhaps this litigation will provide the young women who hoped to be housed in Frisco with the most important homeownership lesson of all: If you want to live in a big house in a North Texas neighborhood, be prepared to do whatever a faceless but powerful group of HOA board members tells you to do.