Albuquerque sober living house sparks regulation questions

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a house for men who are trying to stay off drugs and alcohol, but does it belong in the middle of a quiet Albuquerque neighborhood? And who’s overseeing it? That’s what a neighbor wanted to know.

“Maybe it’s because of stigma,” said Daniel Alonzo, who lives inside the Hoffman Hall house. “You hear, ‘they’re an addict,’ and you immediately go to those images you see on TV and movies.”

Alonzo said he and the seven other men who live there fight that stigma every day. That’s because the home they share on Morningside Drive is a sober living house, meant to be a safe space for men recovering from drug or alcohol abuse.

Alonzo was the house manager and says he’s almost two years clean from meth. “I needed a home base that I knew no matter what, I could be safe — there was gonna be no drugs, no alcohol,” he explained.

But not everyone in the neighborhood is thrilled by the idea.

A neighbor who didn’t want to go on camera told KRQE News 13 they’d had issues with trash, empty liquor bottles and paraphernalia in their yard, claiming residents from the sober living house left the mess.

Pipe found in neighbor’s yard

“Are neighbors supposed to be notified of such places in their neighborhood?” The neighbor wrote News 13. “I honestly don’t like living next door to recovering alcoholics or drug addicts. Especially if they are going to degrade my yard and property.”

“The drugs and paraphernalia are all around us, you know what I mean?” said Robert Villalobos, Director of Hoffman Hall Sober Living Homes in Albuquerque. “I see it walking down the streets everywhere I go.”

Hoffman Hall is a privately-run company that runs a handful of sober livings homes around the city. Villalobos said they’re just like any other home, and each of its residents pay rent.

“Morningside has been the first complaint I’ve had in a long time,” explained Villalobos. “If there’s even remotely a problem they call me, and we’ve always taken care of it. We keep our houses clean and orderly,” he said.

Villalobos said Hoffman Hall has strict rules for everyone to follow, and house managers conduct frequent drug and alcohol screenings. If a resident fails, he said he has 20 minutes to move out.

“You risk other people’s well-being,” said Villalobos. “You will not find any drugs or alcohol in any of my houses.”

But what about outside oversight? Does the city or state regulate places like this? KRQE News 13 asked city and state officials those questions.

“First we would need to determine exactly how we would classify the activity,” explained Brennon Williams, Planning and Zoning Director for the City of Albuquerque. “The short answer being group homes are not allowed in residential zones, whereas community residential facilities, similar to a group home but different — are allowed,” Williams explained.

Hoffman Hall says it falls under the second category, which is protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act. Unlike group homes or rehabs, Hoffman Hall doesn’t distribute meds or offer counseling, but rather connects residents to outside services.

“Under the Fair Housing Act, any number of protected classes are treated as a family,” said Williams.

City Code Enforcement visited the home and found no clear violations.

So to answer the neighbor’s question of whether or not they should’ve been notified, Villalobos said they’re just like anyone else and don’t need permission to move in.

“We’re definitely not breaking any rules,” Villalobos told News 13.

Since the sober living homes don’t receive any public funds, state agencies don’t have any regulatory authority over them. But Hoffman Hall says it keeps its own strict policies.

“We don’t accept sex offenders, we don’t accept violent criminals, we don’t take people from prison,” explained Villalobos. “Our houses are safe, sober and clean.”

He said the work they do is close to his heart. Nearly three years drug-free himself, Villalobos said he now spends his days connecting other guys to resources, some who would otherwise be homeless.

“I help them get jobs, help them get to meetings every night,” said Villalobos. “I drive people to meetings every single night.”

The men who live there care about their community and being good neighbors, he says.

As addicts, sometimes we spent a lot of time taking. Now it’s learning how to serve and do that in a way that benefits and uplifts people. I believe a person deserves a chance to change their life.

Robert Villalobos, Director of Hoffman Hall Sober Living Homes

Villalobos says Hoffman Hall would welcome more regulations and support from the state. They currently have eight homes for recovering addicts in Albuquerque. Five of them are for men, three are for women.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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