What is transitional housing? This form of social housing provides a safe living environment that supports recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD). Each home may differ in program structure and intensity; however, most have policies and procedures that promote safety and improvements in a resident’s life as they pursue recovery.
In this article:
- What to Expect in Transitional Housing
- Transitional Housing vs. Other Types of Sober Living
- What is Transitional Housing at Different Levels?
- Is Transitional Housing Effective?
- Expectations in Transitional Housing
- Transitional Housing Environments that Support Recovery
- What is the Admission Process for Transitional Housing?
- Resident Characteristics
- Are You Ready for Transitional Housing?
What to Expect in Transitional Housing
The specifics of what comprises transitional housing can vary. To some, these homes are a step-down in treatment services for someone who completes inpatient rehab but is not ready to return to their old environment. However, attending inpatient treatment is not always a requirement to enter sober transitional housing, though inpatient rehab can help with detox and teaching relapse prevention skills before entering housing since they require sobriety.2
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services define transitional housing as having the following components:3
- Peer support and access to peer groups in the community
- Safe, drug-free environment
- Connection to recovery resources
- Continued care of mental and physical needs, such as taking medications responsibly
Transitional Housing vs. Other Types of Sober Living
While there are many forms of rehabilitative housing, not every type is right for every person pursuing recovery. When discussing transitional housing for addiction recovery, the most interchangeable title may be sober living home (SLH). These housing situations allow residents to stay in a sober environment as long as they wish, provided they pay rent and follow all rules.
Like SLHs, halfway houses have rules against substance use and often house residents with SUD, these houses are more typically part of a person’s structured release after incarceration. Halfway houses differ from transitional housing in other ways, as well, including:2
- Residents of most SLHs pay rent and fees, while halfway houses are supported financially by government agencies.
- Residents are allowed to work to pay fees for their SLH, but those in halfway houses must focus on therapy.
- Residents can stay indefinitely in a SLH, while halfway houses only allow temporary stays.
- Residents are not required to participate in treatment in a SLH, but treatment is mandatory for halfway house residents.
Oxford House models are another type of sober residential housing that, like transitional housing, allow residents to maintain financial self-sufficiency and informally encourage recovery from SUD. However, Oxford Houses are unique in that residents elect peers to run them on a rotating basis. The number of residents at one time ranges between six and 10, while numbers at SLHs vary widely. Finally, attendance at support groups is not required, while some SLHs do require participation in a 12-step or similar group.2
What is Transitional Housing at Different Levels?
There are four levels of transitional housing that help determine the structure and intensity of the house.3 Knowing how these levels are defined will help you know what to expect in traditional housing situations.
Level-1 Transitional Housing
Level 1 is usually a single-family home that peers run. There is little supervision, but policies and procedures are defined, and the overseeing person or group of people expect you to follow them. Even attending 12-step or other support groups is a recommendation, not a requirement.
Level-2 Transitional Housing
A house manager or supervisor monitors level-2 transitional housing. Peers run house meetings and groups. You must participate in some form of treatment, whether through support groups or individual counseling.
Level-3 Transitional Housing
Level 3 is much more structured than levels 1 and 2, with licensed professionals and other staff supervision. The recovery residence likely holds a license or certification by the state. You can attend recovery treatment from a local facility, attend support groups, and participate in any other activity to help you develop the skills needed for recovery.
Level-4 Transitional Housing
The most restrictive and structured transitional housing program is level 4, a more clinical, service-oriented environment. The program has multiple licensed staff, ensuring residents follow the policies. Various therapeutic activities provide support while teaching life skills to prevent relapse.
Most transitional living facilities allow someone to stay in treatment if they wish, as long as they pay rent and abide by the rules.
Is Transitional Housing Effective?
The Oxford House is the only transitional housing to be thoroughly studied, but the results are promising. Residents in their recovery residences have shown the following:4
- Relapse rates are lower
- Incarceration is lower
- Employment and income are higher
- Family functioning improved
Recovery houses do not have regulations like treatment centers. Some are not affiliated with treatment programs and do not promote recovery but rather provide a place to sleep. However, many transitional living homes put a lot of effort into helping someone in recovery. Transitional housing often includes the following features:5
- Maintaining a drug and alcohol-free environment
- Living near 12-step facilitation groups
- Being affiliated with a larger treatment organization
- Requiring residents be sober for at least 30 days before entry
- Being located in a safe, supportive neighborhood
- Charging fees for rent and utilities
- Ensuring access to community resources
- Hiring a house manager who is encouraging and supportive
- Creating a recovery-focused environment
Expectations in Transitional Housing
Structure and rules exist in all types of transitional housing and at every level. Some programs, like Oxford House, may require you to sign a contract upon moving in, agreeing to abide by the house rules listed in the contract. Other recovery houses may be contingent on approval from probation or parole and meeting their requirements. Some general expectations include the following:6
- Spend your first 30 nights in the house alone
- Explain prescription medication to the group and have a note from the physician
- Attend group meetings outside the house weekly
- Respect boundaries of people and others’ possessions
- Clean up after yourself and complete chores
- Respect roommates when it comes to the amount of time you spend on the phone, in the shower, doing chores, and making noise
- Resolve problems with maturity and respect
- Pay your rent on time
- Attend all house meetings
- Avoid bringing alcohol, drugs, or guns into the house
- Admit to relapse right away and move out of the house quickly if a relapse occurs
While these are not all the expectations, they are the most common across all levels.
Transitional Housing Environments that Support Recovery
Recovery capital refers to anything you gain that supports recovery. Research shows specific types of recovery capital help you succeed in transitional housing environments, including:7
- Support from family and friends
- Motivation to maintain recovery
- Involvement in a 12-step facilitation group
- Encouragement to seek employment and gain skills
- Access to physical and mental health care
- Resolution of legal problems
Some transitional housing programs consider the home’s architecture an excellent way to further support recovery for residents. Below is a summary of the research supporting five architectural qualities:8
- The location of transitional housing should be in a neighborhood that avoids chaos. It is quiet and has a low crime rate, has easy access to employment opportunities, groceries, doctors, and fun sober activities. It is also near support groups for recovery. It should not be near businesses or venues that promote substance use.
- Recovery houses should look like any other house in the neighborhood. They should not stand out nor be exclusive. The key is to provide a home where people can live near others, build relationships in the neighborhood, volunteer in the community, work nearby, and exist just like all the other families in the area.
- The interior of the transitional home should allow for social interactions. The kitchen should be open and big enough for several residents to cook and hang out. An open floor plan eliminates barriers and makes everyone feel included. There are times when residents need privacy, and homes should also provide those spaces.
- Safety is essential, but recovery homes don’t need bars on windows and doors to protect residents. A security plan with resident involvement can help more than barricading the exterior.
- Curb appeal and landscaping should be neat and attractive. Residents should take part in keeping it maintained. The transitional house should be just as well-kept as the rest of the neighborhood.
What is the Admission Process for Transitional Housing?
Referrals for transitional housing can come from nearly anyone, including probation or parole officers, medical doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and friends or family. An in-person interview typically follows the referral. Depending on the level of transitional housing, this interview could be with a house manager or, at a more intense level, with a therapist or clinical staff from a larger treatment facility.9 The person with whom you meet can answer your questions and tell you what to expect in transitional housing.
During the first meeting, you will learn about the payment process. This also depends on the level of transitional housing. State or federal funding sources often sponsor higher intensity programs. Lower-level recovery homes require residents to pay rent and other expenses on time each month.9
How Long is Transitional Housing?
Length of stay depends on the intensity level. High-level sober living homes typically have a schedule that allows you to step down to a less intense program after several weeks. Lower-level homes will enable you to stay indefinitely if you do not relapse and continue to pursue recovery.9
Who is Eligible?
Not every person in transitional housing will be at the same stage of recovery. Essential criteria qualify you for approval and admission to live in transitional housing, including being stable in your recovery. You must also desire to stay sober and recognize a need for more structured support and access to professional resources.3
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A study of more than 18,000 sober living residents from the Oxford House looked at the types of people living in transitional housing. The study results can be generalized to residents seeking treatment at a SLH.
The results showed that out of the 18,000 surveyed, residents living in transitional housing comprised the following data:10
- 80% had alcohol or substance use disorders; 21% misused alcohol only
- 77% were previously incarcerated
- 68% were previously homeless
- 12% were veterans
- 87% were employed
- 98% attended AA or 12-step groups, and 45% also participated in counseling
Further, the residents studied maintained sobriety for an average of 13.4 months.
Are You Ready for Transitional Housing?
If you are ready to take the next step in recovery and enter transitional housing, you need someone who can help you identify the recovery residence that will meet your needs. If you need a lot of structure, then contacting the clinical staff of an affiliated treatment facility is ideal. If you want little supervision and structure, you can talk to a house manager of the sober living home directly.
By calling 800-661-1690 (Who Answers?), we can connect you directly with the right transitional housing program. We are here all night and day, so reach out anytime to speak with a treatment specialist.
- National Alliance for Recovery Residences. (2019). National Standard 3.0 Compendium.
- Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R. A., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010). Sober Living Houses for Alcohol and Drug Dependence: 18-month Outcomes. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 38(4), 356-365.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Recovery Housing: Best Practices and Suggested Guidelines.
- National Council for Behavioral Health. (2018). Building Recovery: State Policy Guide for Supporting Recovery Housing. National Alliance for Recovery Residences.
- Mericle, A. A., Mahoney, E., Korcha, R., Delucchi, K., & Polcin, D. L. (2019). Sober living house characteristics: A multilevel Analyses of Factors Associated with Improved Outcomes. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 98, 28-38.
- Oxford House. Oxford House Expectations.
- Polcin, D. L., Mahoney, E., Witbrodt, J., & Mericle, A. A. (2020). Recovery Home Environment Characteristics Associated with Recovery Capital. Journal of Drug Issues, 51(2), 253-267.
- Wittman, F., Jee, B., Polcin, D. L., & Henderson, D. (2014). The Setting is the Service: How the Architecture of Sober Living Residences Supports Community Based Recovery. International Journal of Self Help & Self Care, 8(2), 189-225.
- National Alliance for Recovery Residences. (2012). A Primer on Recovery Residences: FAQs from the National Alliance for Recovery Residences.
- S. Government Accountability Office. (2018). Substance Use Disorder: Information on Recovery House Prevalence, Selected States’ Oversight and Funding.