07XX19_nws_soberhomes

Serenity House, a sober living home on Tallahassee Avenue, is run by the Hansen Foundation.

Lawmakers are looking to improve the safety and operation of what has become a critical component for many fighting their way out of substance abuse disorders.

That component, a safe place to do the work of recovery, may be affected by a bill that aims to create a voluntary certification system for recovery homes in New Jersey.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblymen John Armato and Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, passed the Assembly Human Services Committee on Monday.

The legislation is meant to ensure that people in recovery from addiction have accommodations and services that are up to a certain standard, and to create a clearer distinction between recovery homes and boarding houses, the two said in the release.

Recovery homes differ from boarding houses, or rooming houses, in that they provide supervision and support, not just a bed, Mazzeo said.

“The goal of this bill is to make it easier for sober living houses to operate in the state and continue the great work they have been doing thus far,” he said.

If passed, the bill would compel the state Department of Community Affairs to appropriate funds for a credentialing entity to issue certificates through on-site inspections for sober living homes that meet certain standards. The non-profit entity would also carry out a yearly recertification process and unannounced on-site inspections for organizations that opt in, as well as oversee criminal background checks and voluntary professional certification for administrators who work in the homes.

The process would be voluntary. Municipalities, in turn, could create ordinances that allow only credentialed recovery homes to operate within city limits, said Charity Jeffries, chief of staff for Armato and Mazzeo.

Smaller cities with one or two recovery homes might be satisfied with their operation and want to avoid sticking them with the cost of credentialing, Mazzeo said. It is similar to a “pilot program” that can be adjusted as new concerns arise, he said.

Fraud was among the issues on their mind in outlining the credentialing system, Armato said.

There is the risk of “having someone come into a sober living home, setting them up with Medicaid or other insurance payments and then just letting the individual go in the wind and still collect that money,” Armato said. “Anywhere where people can see an easy dollar, it’s gonna happen. And this is why we need regulation.”

One aspect missing from the bill — limits on the number of homes allowed per municipality or neighborhood — could be a problem for Absecon Island, said Ventnor Commissioner Lance Landgraf.

His city has 23 recovery homes with 132 bedrooms, Landgraf said, and he regularly hears from residents about how their presence chokes on-street parking and tanks home values. He thinks Ventnor could reasonably sustain fewer than 10 sober living homes and is upset that local officials weren’t consulted before the bill moved through committee.

Landgraf said Tuesday he hasn’t had enough time to fully digest the bill, but on the surface he’s “not a fan.”

“There needs to be regulation on how many each town should max out at,” Landgraf said. “We’re a very dense population. Neighbors are very close to each other. ... Now, instead of just two to three people living in a house, you’ve got 12. Cars, noise, all the activities that go along with that many people in a home.”

Landgraf said he will meet with Armato and Mazzeo on Friday to discuss the bill.

“We’re not against people getting better. We’re not against that,” Landgraf said. “There has to be some limitations on what a community can absorb, and nobody is helping us with that, and we don’t think that that bill is helping us either.”

Mazzeo said the bill could be tweaked. Armato is confident the current bill will find bipartisan support in the full Assembly.

“I think this is a bill that will garner votes on both sides of the aisle,” Armato said. “I think this is giving individuals that second chance that we all need, and I think, once again, sober living facilities do an outstanding job in giving that pathway back into what we consider a normal life.”