Pennsylvania is Getting Tighter Regulations for Recovery Homes. Will They Improve a Faulty System?

The reason Bristol, Pa., officials pursued recovery home ordinances for their township was simple: “People were dying” in unregulated homes, said Bristol Township Council President Craig Bowen.
In Philadelphia, there are many recovery homes that have little oversight. But, according to regulations passed in August 2016, Bristol recovery home owners have several boxes to check before opening a residence, including:

  • Being more than 300 feet from any other recovery home
  • Certification by the Pennsylvania Association of Recovery Residences (PARR); standards are listed here
  • Being a member of the Bucks County Recovery House Association (BCRHA), a PARR affiliate
  • Proper zoning
  • Meeting the amount of allowed clients per residence

Impact and challenges of Bristol ordinances:

Two years later, some troublesome homes have closed in Bristol, and more than 150 remain in operation, according to Barb Williamson, president of Way of Life Recovery.

Williamson, a proponent of the ordinances, has eight homes in the Philadelphia area and Bristol. All of her residences are PARR-certified.

But Bowen said he discovered implementing recovery home regulations can be a muddled process.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects people with disabilities, including those with substance use disorder. Regulations imposed on group homes for people with disabilities that aren’t applied to other residences could violate FHA, according to a 2016 statement from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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