Quite often, people ask me for advice on opening and running a recovery home. What you may not realize is that another form of special needs housing could be considered.
My journey with special needs housing began almost 25 years ago. At the time, it was providing low-income housing through government Section 8 programs, which provide subsidies for low-income people due to various reasons, including disability.
My second experience came from working with people who used Community Action either for emergency housing or for down payments or rent, often due to a distressing situation, such as being homeless with children or being an abused parent or spouse with children.
But my third experience, which led me to own and operate a (privately owned) drug and alcohol recovery home, happened almost by accident. My oldest son was in recovery and was asked to manage a home for the owner of several recovery homes in a nearby county. This is where my son had recovered after a long series of multiple recovery attempts with little prior success.
The second part of the perfect storm was that my wife and I were looking to downsize our primary residence, primarily for lifestyle reasons, but the housing market had already sunk. So we both took a chance and decided to open our own recovery house with our primary residence, especially since there was a drastic shortage of facilities in our area.
What is a home to live sober?
Sober Living Homes offer security and support to people recovering from drug or alcohol abuse. These are homes where you live in a substance-free environment while navigating real-world responsibilities. These types of homes allow you to be substance free, but you still have to deal with everything you would deal with in the real world to avoid falling into a false sense of security.
All successful sober living homes have rules and regulations that you must follow to live there, and while these rules can vary, the general guidelines are usually the same no matter where you go. Sober living houses, also called recovery houses, are group residences. This means that you live with a large group of people, all of whom are recovering from some form of addiction. Residents must remain sober while living in the home and comply with any drug test requests.
Owners of these types of homes are usually private, but charities and businesses can also own sober homes. Most of the houses are located in residential neighborhoods. If you live in a sober living house, you can have your own room or have a roommate, depending on the size of the house and the number of people the house receives at any one time.
How to start a sober life at home
The first thing you need to do to start a sober living home is to write a business plan. You should describe the type of residence you want, detail how many residents you plan to allow in the home, and provide a good list of similar operations in the area where you hope to open a home. Doing all of this allows potential investors or lenders to decide whether you will have too much or too little competition. Having very little competition means that you may have to accept more residents than you can accommodate.
You will also need to obtain an employer identification number from the IRS.
Calculate overhead costs
In your business plan for your sober living home, you should also explain how you plan to attract residents, how much you will charge, what services you provide, and how to raise operating capital. You should also plan for the overhead cost estimate, even if it’s just an estimate. This shows that you know how much it costs to run a residential home to live soberly.
Research licensing laws, regulations, and zoning
When considering opening any type of residential home, you should research the zoning laws in your area. You must rent or buy a home, and you must handle the number of people you want to house. Often these areas are residential in nature and you may face a community backlash when trying to start a sober life in your neighborhood. However, when it comes to community reaction, federal Fair Housing laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act are on their side, protecting people who need to live in sober homes. You do not need a license or certification to open a home to live sober, but some states require that you complete the voluntary certification processes first.
Set Resident Criteria and Find a House Manager
Sober households tend to be male-only or female-only; they rarely host both sexes. By establishing this, you are setting the guidelines for who can stay in your home to live sober.
You should invite a person of the appropriate gender to be the house manager to help manage the house and in situations where you have mixed genders you may want to have two house managers to equalize the gender ratio . The house manager must be sober for six months to a year, and you must hire that person for a set period of time. It is a good idea to offer a promotion from resident to house manager after the resident has served a specified period of time without drinking. This gives them the motivation to stay sober. You must pay for the administration of the house. Often their accommodation is free, as are their meals, but this does not negate the need to pay them.
You should be able to determine if a person should reside in your home. It should list the information that an individual will need to provide during the application process, which can be anything from identification to proof of residency and references.
Promote and market your home to live sober
You need to make sure that you are promoting and marketing your home to live sober for what it is. You don’t want to be misleading, and you don’t want people who don’t meet the criteria to live in your home to contact you. It will take you a long time to go through the application processes only to find that the person does not fit your needs or, more accurately, that you do not fit their needs.
The challenges of having a sober house to live in
Once we had the acceptance of myself as the owner and my son, who had a lot of experience with recovery, as a manager, the rest was the easy part. Having a good property, location, and furnishing a place may not seem like the easy part for the typical real estate investor, but it is. The hardest part is having a good manager, culture, and reputation.
It also helps to have a big “why.” That’s what keeps you going during tough times. Most real estate investors have dollar signs in their eyes when they think of renting beds, but there is also a lot of responsibility and obligations that can go along with it. Personally, my son and I don’t do it for the money, as there are much easier ways to earn money.
In the beginning, in addition to filling the house, the biggest challenges for us were the municipality and the neighbors. Everyone thinks that a recovery house is a good idea as long as you are not near them. The truth of the matter is, we’ve never had criminal problems.
The types of problems we generally have are things like an increase in turnover or someone breaking the house rules. However, every once in a while we lose a resident or a former resident, and it is a sad reminder of the life and death battle that rages on the streets in terms of addiction.
Another challenge for us is the facilitator in the life of the addict, usually a parent or spouse, who inhibits the resident’s recovery. The most common traits I see in a typical resident are selfishness and lack of maturity. There were times when we had to tell a parent that they needed to let Junior grow up and stop calling home.
The benefits of having a house to live sober
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, just in the fact that you never have a full vacancy. Residents also do housework, such as maintaining the grounds and shoveling snow. There is some wear and tear in the house, but usually someone in the house is skilled in a trade. For example, some residents have been chefs, plumbers, electricians, etc. In addition, residents can range from 18 to 65 years old and belong to all walks of life.
By far the best part of owning and running a recovery home has been what it has done for my son and me, as it is probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. Some people come to me crying and saying that my son or I have saved their life, the life of their child or the life of their spouse, and it is very difficult to put a price on that.
Nothing is better than watching a resident or ex-resident move out, get a good job, get married, buy a home, or even start a business. It is one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment in the world.
Many of us know someone who struggles with addiction and we feel we would like to do more to serve this community. So if you are contemplating opening some type of drug and alcohol recovery home, a great resource when getting started is the Oxford House website, where you can learn more about managing recovery homes in general.
Anyway, who says you can’t manage rental properties and make a more socially conscious investment at the same time?
Level up your investment
Imagine that you are friends with hundreds of real estate investors and entrepreneurs. Now imagine you can have a beer with each of them and casually chat about failures, successes, motivations, and lessons learned. That is what we seek with The BiggerPockets podcast.