The stately gray brick house with black plantation shutters sits alongside a quiet, curved street in Little Rock's upscale Leawood neighborhood, indistinguishable from the homes around it. Inside, two of the women who live there sit around the kitchen table, family style, with their caretaker and two visitors, enjoying a lunch of roast beef and potatoes, washed down with iced tea. A partially finished jigsaw puzzle rests on a table in the adjacent dining room.
Meanwhile, a dozen miles away on Arlington Road in North Little Rock, a more modest red brick ranch house in the Lakewood neighborhood that was in the remodeling process sits half finished and abandoned. Weeds poke up through the concrete in the driveway, and a giant dumpster outside overflows with construction waste.
Koy Butler owns both of these houses. He intended the second to be like the first — a place where up to three elderly disabled people receive around-the-clock care in a home setting, surrounded by their own furniture and prized possessions, rather than the sterile environment of a nursing home. But Butler's House of Three, as he calls it, ran into a bureaucratic buzzsaw in North Little Rock, fueled by neighborhood politics, leaving him marooned with an unfinished project.
Frustrated, Butler filed a complaint with the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission, which is now investigating whether the city violated state and federal fair housing laws by requiring Butler to seek rezoning of the property for his adult care home, which both the Planning Commission and the City Council rejected.
Butler and his attorney, Dana McClain, contend the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits cities from using zoning rules to treat housing for the disabled differently from housing for anyone else. Butler now wants the city to pay $553,000 to make him whole financially.
"I just don't see why the city is dragging their feet," he said. "I've got so much invested in that house that I can't move forward until that's off my balance sheet."
To add insult to injury, on one of his many trips to City Hall to untangle the mess, he was hit by a car on Main Street, leaving him with a cast on his foot.
In an interview, North Little Rock City Attorney C. Jason Carter conceded "absolutely" the city could have done a better job of dealing with Butler's request. But he said the root of the problem was that the city had never previously been faced with a project of this type in a residential neighborhood.
"I'd call this a case of first impression in North Little Rock," Carter said. "And we were stumbling our way through it."
Butler, who has worked in the nursing home industry and is also an alderman in Lonoke, opened his first House of Three in Leawood in 2013. It's a for-profit business, but he said it's also something of a mission.
"It's just more of a personable option, and I just wanted to take care of them more individually," he said. "I want to make a living taking care of people. That's what I've always done."
W.C. Maynard's wife, Jenny, is a resident of the Leawood home, which he said was a vast improvement over her previous care environments.
"It's the best place we've ever found," he said. "That's why we're here. I'd give (Butler) an A-plus"
The House of Three is what is known as an adult family home, designed as an alternative to institutional care. The residents live together as a family with an in-house caregiver.
"We know that seniors want to live in their own homes, or, short of that, in their own communities," said Krista Hughes, director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services. "All data shows that people would like to remain in the least restrictive environment possible."
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