Proposed Hackensack Sober Living Home Prompts Concerns, Questions, and Hopes

At the latest Hackensack City Council session, debate centered on a proposed Cooperative Sober Living Residence (CSLR) at 125 Willow Avenue. Residents expressed apprehensions about the facility’s management and safety, noting it had been previously fined for operating without a proper license.

CSLRs provide a residential setting for individuals in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. They aim to create a supportive environment where residents can help each other maintain sobriety.

Throughout the meeting, attendees and council members highlighted the benefits of CSLRs: They offer a safe space for individuals recovering from addiction, providing a transitional environment for them to regain their independence and reintegrate into society. CSLRs can help reduce relapse rates by surrounding residents with peers who understand and support their journey to sobriety. Furthermore, CSLRs can have potential positive economic impact on the community by reducing costs related to addiction treatment and criminal justice.

Still, several residents at the meeting expressed their discomfort with the proposed CSLR.

Christina Bauer, a local resident, took the lead in voicing concerns, arguing that the operators of the proposed CSLR demonstrated deceitfulness in their initial dealings. “A safe house is only as safe and secure as the people running it,” she stated.

Responding to Bauer, the city attorney clarified the unique nature of CSLR applications. Approval falls under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), and not local land use boards. The attorney also expressed concerns about the property’s past activities and the late notification given to the city, emphasizing the importance of CSLRs operating transparently and responsibly. “I’m personally offended that they were not truthful with us when we came to them in good faith trying to find out what was happening,” the attorney said

A long-term Hackensack resident echoed concerns about communication and the establishment of the facility. He pointed out practical issues like parking, referencing an 18-passenger van frequently obstructing Willow Street.

Another concerned resident voiced safety apprehensions, drawing from past experiences in Brooklyn, New York. He questioned the assurances of safety, considering the planned ten-women residency of the CSLR. The council assured residents they were awaiting the DCA’s decision and that they’d ensure any genuine concerns are addressed. Members also confirmed bedrooms in basements are illegal and that they would be monitoring the operation of the CSLR to ensure compliance with local regulations.

Steve Greco raised questions about the Certificate of Occupancy (COE), suggesting a possible breach if the number of residents increased from five or fewer to six or more. A council member explained the typical COE process but no conclusions were drawn regarding violations.

Several other residents questioned the true motives behind the sober house, with some speculating it might be more profit-driven than genuinely humanitarian. In his public comments, resident Edward Moran requested increased city oversight in light of the property’s previous unlicensed operations. The city attorney reassured residents, saying that while constrained by state regulations, the council was doing its utmost to address concerns.

The council emphasized the community’s right to voice concerns and encouraged residents to report any issues to the DCA, Senator Gordon Johnson, and Congressman Gottheimer.

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