Transformation to Recovery, a 501c3 nonprofit under the ministry of Christ Church South Philly, received permission from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment this week to operate a recovery residence for individuals struggling with addiction at a property located off of 9th Street and Snyder Avenue.
The property, 2117 S. 9th St., which was purchased by Christ Church South Philly last year, had already been operating as this type of facility for several years, according to accounts from Christ Church staff, Lower Moyamensing Civic Association members and neighbors living around the site.
Transformation to Recovery’s “Hope House” currently, and will continue to, operate as a faith-based space for up to 10 unrelated men living in the four-bedroom residence for no more than six months duration.
After Christ Church, a Pennsport-based religious organization established in 2014, bought the property in March 2018, it sought to legally manage the facility under a “group living” zoning status. The property is zoned as a RSA-5 (Residential Single-Family Attached), which requires a special exception to operate as a group living property, according to the Philadelphia Zoning Code.
In seeking the special exception, Christ Church presented its case to the Lower Moyamensing (LoMO) Civic Association last week before testifying in front of the ZBA on Wednesday.
“The reality is, moving forward, it’s only going to be better. If we get through this, it’s only going to be better,” said lead pastor Jeff Boettcher at the LoMo zoning meeting. “We’re trying to remedy a situation that has been working for a long time for over 20 years pretty successfully in the neighborhood. We want to bring it all to compliancy because we believe that the codes are in place for a reason, and we want to get behind that.”
Through various programming, Transformation To Recovery exists to “help men and women with their hindrances, habits and hurts to experience full recovery through a transformation as a new creation in Christ,” according to its mission.
The organization partners with various local addiction entities, including the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.
While TTR does not offer clinical resources, it serves as a faith-based holistic aftercare service in an effort to integrate recovering men back into the community.
“What makes TTR unique is we’re a well-structured 90-day disciple program integrated in the church community with collaboration partners throughout the city of Philadelphia and beyond that supports the mission,” said TTR executive director John Carlson at the LoMo meeting.
According to Carlson, the Hope House must comply to various codes set by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Recovery Residences as well as the National Alliance for Recovery Residences.
The standards include abiding by ethical conflicts, marketing ethics and meeting zoning standards.
“We want to be compliant to PARR, which is compliant to NARR so we are held accountable for safety standards for the folks who are living in the house and make sure that we are doing the right thing,” Carlson said.
To be granted special exception, TTR had to meet various zoning criteria, including proving that the operation doesn’t congest the local transportation system, overcrowd the land, impair the adequate supply of light and air to adjacent properties or burden the water, sewer, schools, parks and other public facilities.
It also had to comply with not endangering the public health or safety by fire and other means as well as not cause any inconsistency with the Comprehensive Plan of the City.
“It’s on us to show that we comply with those,” said TTR attorney Robert M. Careless.
During the zoning meeting, the LoMo zoning board expressed concerns of its own, including garbage accumulation, parking issues and noise.
Carlson says, aside from the Hope House having to meet certain standards set by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, the property will have designated sheds for trash and the residents will not have cars on site.
The Hope House also maintains its own rules and regulations, which includes a 10 p.m. curfew on weekdays and an 11 p.m. curfew on weekends. The men are supervised by a peer coordinator and house manager.
The LoMo zoning board also voiced concern about the property’s “group living” status in the event that Christ Church sells the building in the future.
“I also think it could possibly send a message to nefarious owners that, ‘Hey, let’s make our home into a boarding house,’ ” said Todd Schwartz, chair of the zoning and planning committee. “And that could have detrimental effect on our property.”
However, according to L&I, a new owner must reapply for special exceptions on a property even if they intend to operate a similar business.
After the meeting, the RCO, though, officially offered support of the request. According to a letter addressed to the ZBA, LoMo Civic Association says 12 eligible members of the affected community signed a clipboard with “9 in support and 3 in opposition to the proposed special exception.” Three members of LoMo’s Zoning and Planning Committee voted to support, while two voted not to oppose.
Councilman Mark Squilla also wrote a letter saying he was in non-opposition to the special exception.
The letters were an addition to several means of community support, including hand-written letters from residents living on the neighboring Cantrell Street and a petition signed by more than 60 people in favor of Hope House.
The majority of the several dozen LoMo zoning meeting participants demonstrated support for the Hope House.
Neighbors on Cantrell Street say men living in the Hope House have been “respectful” and “quiet as mice,” including cleaning the streets and giving water ice to neighbors.
“These men that are living at the Hope House – they are men of good example, men of honor,” said meeting attendee Audra Ouellette. “They want to make the community better. They are not going to do anything of the opposite.”
Some attendees brought up the Hope House’s potential effect on drug abuse in the Lower Moyamensing neighborhood.
“You’ve got heroin addicts on the street, on the block, shooting up in front of people,” said Mark Cardillo, who lives near the property. “It’s like you’re either fighting against it or you’re with it. There’s no middle ground. So, (TTR is) doing an excellent job in doing what they have to do.”
Others echoed Cardillo’s concerns about the opioid crisis, particularly its impact on this part of South Philadelphia, as overdoses in the 19148 ZIP code have increased by 20 percent – from 44 to 53 deaths – from 2017 to 2018, as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“We need solutions, and this is a solution,” said LoMo Civic Association president Patti Tahan. “And when you have somebody that’s solid, that has a good reputation – I think it’s something that’s needed in the community, because they are also a good example of the right way to do it rather than, ‘Not in my backyard.”