I want to share my experience. You have likely planned exactly what you are going to do and exactly how you are going to do it so I am not interested in changing your model. I just want to help in finding suitable properties and overcoming obstacles for a successful Sober House.
- Let’s start with the single most important aspect of finding a suitable property for your Sober House. Find a property with lots of off-street parking. I cannot say this enough and it is the most ignored piece of advice I give to those who ask for my help. The last thing you want to do is bring unwanted attention to your property. Too many cars on the street parked in front of you neighbors houses will start an immediate fight. Nothing is worse than bringing about the wrong kind of attention when all you want is to help as many as possible without fighting your neighbors and/or city for parking violations. Suitable properties are out there, you just have to look really hard.
- This leads right into my second point, avoid HOA’s at all costs. They can make your life a living hell. Once your neighbors figure out what you are a Sober House they may want to find any reason to make you leave. If you are renting they will go after your landlord until he or she decides you are just too much trouble and refuses to renew your lease. Parking issues are a sure start for them. I have seen a number of houses shut down for this very reason.
- Avoid renting, if you can. Many of us start with rental Sober Houses until we are established enough to purchase a property. Sometimes the landlord believes you are making too much money off their property. They decide to double your rent upon a lease renewal. This very thing happened to me with my women’s program. As a result I am building new houses, in fact I can build both of them for what I am now paying in rent. It’s not always possible but owning the problem fixes many issues.
- Know the law and know your city codes. Study the Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 and know Steve Polin. He is the DC based lawyer you will need if your city ever tries to shut you down for zoning, family status, or any other discriminatory issue. The fact is a recovery house is to be viewed as a family unit and many cities still have out dated codes that directly violate the FHAA of 1988. There are many well documented cases of cities and counties who have been found guilty of discriminating against their own citizens. This is a ugly time consuming and costly fight, you do not want to be a part of it. You may want to approach the city to discuss your plans. Thoughtfully explain you are working with a protected class that allow you to operate a Sober House in a residential setting. Explain how you plan to operate and work with the city. If it’s going to be a fight it’s better to know up front.
- Find a Sober House in an area with a low crime rate. If they neighborhood makes you nervous at night why do you think families would feel safe enough to place their loved one with you.
- Find a property within walking distance to employment centers and public transportation. If you require your residents to work don’t set up unnecessary hardships.
- Know your start up costs, operating budget, and fee structure so you know exactly how many residents it will take to break even. If you don’t know ask someone who does. There are many really good operators who are more than willing to share some wisdom if asked. Take them to lunch, bring them a nice cigar, or some other appropriate gesture.
- Have a marketing plan. Just because you open a great program it does not mean you will be successful. You have to get out and meet people and you have to do it everyday if need be. An empty house can consequently drain your resources.
- Know what you are going to do and exactly how you want to do it. This seems like common sense but, do not just open and let the wind take you where it will. You can always readjust to unforeseen circumstances. Such unfortunate circumstances will appear, but you must market your program with confidence. You can even say something like, “I am new to the field but I know exactly how to help people and I run a tight house.” There is no shame in being new, just do not be floppy. Get to know people who have been doing this successfully and if you ask for advice…LISTEN to them. Do not try to explain why you are different and somehow will not have the same difficulties. They are sharing advice to help you not make some of the same mistakes. You WILL make mistakes, learn from them.
- Be nice to everyone. Hence, you never know who will be who in five years. Even when you identify those who you would rather not be associated with, you don’t have to tell them how you feel. There is no patience or acceptance in those actions. Do not be decisive and DO NOT Facebook fight with anyone, it is futile and makes you look unhinged. All you really need is for people to think you are solid and passionate about your work. If you are just starting, you are at zero with a clean slate. Be smart and be nice. Do not think the only way you can go is up, you would be mistaken. Fighting with anyone on social media or acting elitist is a sure way to end up with nothing and help no one.
I hope this helps. If you have any question please leave a comment.