This is an archived article that was published on in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dawn Tunbridge isn't sure whether to be welcoming or wary of her new next-door neighbors. So for now, she'll probably settle on something in between.

In January, the home just east of Tunbridge will open as Balance House, a sober-living facility for young men recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. Tunbridge, and many of her neighbors, support the sober-living ideal, but wish the facility was located somewhere other than their Cottonwood Heights neighborhood.

They aren't alone. Sober houses seem to be popping up all along the Wasatch Front. While neighbors often want to keep them out, proponents say such facilities help recovering addicts transition to normal life.

The number of sober-living homes in Utah has increased dramatically over the past five years, according to Elizabeth Sollis, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services. However, she said the state has no count of the homes because many are not licensed and do not have to be. Sollis said Utah now tops the nation in prescription-drug addiction, which could help explain the increase.

The sober-living spectrum can include anything from a group of friends who meet in a recovery program and decide to live together to a fully licensed facility with on-site supervision, drug testing and program plans, Sollis said. Some charge as little as $400 a month and offer supervision and a moral-support system, while others charge thousands of dollars and include such services as meals, transportation and counseling. All fall under the federal Fair Housing Act, Sollis said, because addiction recovery is considered a disability.

"The thing people need to remember is that substance abuse is a disease," Sollis said. "It takes community support for people to truly find recovery."

Balance House is hoping to be a good neighbor, said director of operations Micah Woodworth. Residents must have completed a treatment program and pass weekly random drug and alcohol screenings, and also try to find jobs or further their education. The facility has purchased a van to transport residents and ease parking congestion, and has remodeled the house to meet current city building codes.

Woodworth and owner Robbie Bills have gone through an extensive process to receive a license, including a program plan that includes goals and assignments for residents that must be completed each week to stay in the house.

Woodworth and Bills have plenty of personal experience to draw from, as both are recovered addicts. Woodworth credits a sober-living house for playing a significant role in his recovery, while Bills tried to return to normal life straight from treatment. He believes a support network of sober friends would have made it much easier. Recovering addicts need to move past their old lives, Bills said, and build new relationships with people who understand a casual visit to a bar is out — for life.

"They're going to be a family," Woodworth said of Balance House residents. "They're going to be part of our club."

The program plan has eased some of the neighbors' fears, but others linger. Tunbridge is concerned about the sober house affecting her property values and worries that residents who fall off the wagon could damage property or steal from nearby neighbors.

"I understand these young men are trying to get their lives back in order, and I firmly support that," Tunbridge said. "But it shouldn't impact those of us who have chosen to live within the law, without addiction."

That "not in my backyard" reaction is common for this type of housing, said attorney Carl Barton, who specializes in housing law with Holland and Hart.

"They support the concept, but nobody wants it in their neighborhood," Barton said.

Neighbors often have a strong reaction to sober houses, threatening lawsuits or zoning changes, but often find there are few options. Since the houses are protected under the Fair Housing Act, lawsuits and other actions can be seen as discrimination. Sometimes sober-house owners decide to leave the area, Barton said, but more often neighbors have to learn to live with them.

That was the case for Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore Jr. The city now has at least two sober-living facilities, one of which is a block away from his home. But the city is not allowed to even notify residents a sober home may be moving into the area, Cullimore said, because that could be considered an act of discrimination. The city can require houses to get building permits for construction or a business license for rental properties, but the homes are allowed in any area zoned for residential units.

"There isn't a city out there who isn't frustrated about this," Cullimore said. "But we have to follow the law of the land."

He said he has told residents to contact Utah's congressional delegation with their complaints.

While sober-living homes may be on the rise, Michael and Renee Brown know the hubbub in Cottonwood Heights will eventually subside. The couple have been operating three sober houses in the Salt Lake Valley and one in St. George for nearly eight years. The houses were among the first to be licensed by the Department of Human Services. In that time, neighbors have come to accept the houses as part of the community fabric, Michael Brown said, and those who move in often have no idea a sober house is nearby.

"At least everybody has a place in the neighborhood, versus multiple addicts living in the neighborhood alone," Renee Brown said. "People need a place to stay. If they don't, frustration leads them back to their habits."