History and Accomplishments

1975 through 1988

Oxford House, the early years.

The first Oxford House was established in 1975 in Silver Spring, Maryland.  From the beginning the group rejected ownership of any property and continues to rent – not purchase – single-family houses in good neighborhoods to establish new Oxford Houses. In the years between 1975 and 1988, eighteen Houses were established by and for recovering individuals.  The principles of replication and guidelines for running a group home for recovering alcoholics and substance abusers embodied in the Oxford House Manual had become institutionalized in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area and in 1987 a house for ten men was rented in Bethlehem, PA.

1988: The Federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act

In 1988, Congress enacted P.L. 100-690, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. This Act included a provision that required all states to establish a revolving loan fund to provide start-up funds for groups wishing to open sober living environments based on the Oxford House model.  The mandate was changed to a permissive provision in 1990 and is now codified as 42 USC 300x-25.  To determine if a particular state has a current recovery home revolving loan fund, click the Single State Director List and contact the agency. Such loans of $4,000 pay the first month's rent and security deposit and thereby accelerate the rate at which individual recovering people can find affordable housing.  Repayment is made monthly for 24 months so that others can benefit from the same kind of loan.

1989: Implementation of Effective Outreach

The availability of start-up loans for groups of six or more recovering individuals to rent an ordinary single-family house to start an Oxford House was a necessary but not sufficient incentive for expanding the small network of Oxford Houses.  It immediately became clear that it is necessary to teach residents in new self-run, self-supported Oxford Houses the system of operations that had made the early Oxford Houses successful.  Therefore, Oxford House World Services was established in 1989 to train experienced Oxford House residents to be teachers of the system of operations spelled out in the Oxford House Manual©.  Many states provided grants to cover the expenses of World Services to train and supervise “outreach workers” to carry their expertise to newly recovering individuals to start and maintain self-run, self-supported recovery homes. The combination of state grants, individual contributions and foundation grants permitted the establishment of an effective World Services Office within a short period of time.  From the outset, the World Services Office developed expertise in four specific areas:
•    Training and supervision of outreach workers
•    Management of revolving loan fund
•    Legal protection of civil rights under the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act
•    Development of an infra-structure to enable all Oxford Houses to work together to assure applied research, orderly expansion and quality control On November 12, 1989 the Washington Post Magazine published an article by their staff writer Peter Carlson entitled The Oxford House Experiment. The Post article captures the early to expand the number of Oxford Houses as encouraged by the recovery home section of the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act.

1990 through 1996 — Validation of Expansion

A number of states including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii entered into grant agreements with Oxford House World Service to introduce Oxford Houses to their respective states.  

By 1991, when the CBS program “60 Minutes” did a favorable ten-minute segment about Oxford House, there were 256 Oxford Houses throughout the country.  The immediate effect of this program was to increase interest and demand for more Oxford Houses.

In the seven years between 1989 and 1996 the accomplishments of Oxford House World Services included:

  • Website: www.oxfordhouse.org established
  • An increase in houses from 18 to over 600
  • An increase in states served from 3 to 41
  • An increase in total recovery beds from 145 to over 4,954
  • Women's Houses increased from 3 to 110
  • Women's Houses that accept women with children increased from 1 to 18
  • Communities served increased from 3 to 253
  • Average rate of relapse maintained at less than 20% of all residents.

Moreover, Oxford House World Services supervised legal actions throughout the country to resolve civil rights with respect to zoning restrictions and the NIMBY problem.  In 1995, the United States Supreme Court considered the rights of recovering individuals to rent houses in areas zoned for single-family residence.  In its decision in City of Edmonds, WA v. Oxford House, Inc. 514 US 725 (May 15, 1995), the U.S. Supreme Court found that recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act as handicapped individuals and local governments must make reasonable accommodations in their local zoning law restrictions.  This case laid the foundation for a number of other cases where courts have prohibited discrimination against recovering individuals living together for the purpose of becoming comfortable enough in sobriety to avoid relapse.

Key cases include:

•    Wai and Oxford House, Inc. v. Allstate Insurance Company, et. al. 75 F. Supp. 2d 1, (DDC, 1999) – prohibiting homeowner insurance companies from charging landlords more than if they were renting to a family;

•    Tsombanidis, and Oxford House, Inc. v. City of West Haven, Connecticut 180 F. Supp. 262 (CT. 2001) – prohibiting localities from applying fire safety requirements not applicable to biological families in similar rentals.

1996 to 2015 — Oxford house Comes of Age

In 1997, the men and women of Oxford House restructured Oxford House, Inc. – the national 501(c)(3) nonprofit umbrella organization by creating an independent Board of Directors and World Council elected from residents and alumni around the country.   This enabled the national board to recruit experienced outside Directors to compliment the residents and alumni making up the democratic self-run organization.   The Chairperson of the elected World Council is an ex-officio member of the board to assure close coordination between the grassroots democratic policy making of Oxford House, as a whole, and the organized expansion of the Oxford House movement.

During the period between 1997 and 2007, Oxford House continued to grow and thousands of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts demonstrated that recovery without relapse could become the norm rather than the exception.  In some states, the start-up revolving loan fund has turned over many times enabling the development of strong statewide networks of Oxford Houses.  For example, in Washington State the original $100,000 start-up loan fund has loaned out more than $700,000 as houses repaid their loans. The money is used over and over again with the result that the state has 179 houses with 1,464 recovery beds.

To sustain growth and to assure that all houses stay on track, Oxford House World Services organize houses into mutually supportive local chapters and state associations – all democratically self-run and self-supported.  Moreover, in 1999, Oxford House held its first annual World Convention where residents and alumni meet every year to learn more about addiction and the ways and means to expand the number of Oxford Houses.

Highlights during the period include:

  • American Psychological Association awards Oxford House, Inc. the 2003 Harry V. McNeill Award for Effective Community Service
  • DePaul University [NIDA/NIAAA funded] studies show remarkable rates of recovery without relapse–over 80%. Associated Press Story August 18, 2005
  • President’s 2006 Drug Strategy Message features Oxford House as a model program for recovery without relapse.
    • 1999 Washington, D.C. First Annual Convention.  320 residents and alumni attend.  Theme: If Not Us Who?
    • 2000 Kansas City, MO Second Annual Convention.  340 residents and alumni attend.  Theme: Recovery Without Relapse.
    • 2001 Washington, DC Third Annual Convention. 380 residents and alumni attend.  Theme: If Not Now, When?
    • 2002 Seattle, WA Fourth Annual Convention, 420 residents and alumni attend. Theme: Changing the Culture of Recovery.
    • 2003 Washington, DC  Fifth Annual Convention.  415 residents and alumni attend.  Theme: Recovery, Responsibility, and Replication.
    • 2004 San Antonio, TX Sixth Annual Convention.  390 residents and alumni attend.  Theme: Back to Basics.
    • 2005 Alexandria, VA Seventh Annual Convention. 400 residents and alumni attend.  Theme: Family, Fellowship, and Freedom.
    • 2006 Wichita, KS Eighth Annual Convention; Program includes 26 stories of success.  460 residents and alumni attend.  Theme: Oxford House Comes of Age.
    • 2007 Washington, DC  Ninth Annual Convention; Program includes 18 stories of success.  530 residents and alumni attend.  Theme: Oxford House – What If?
    • 2008 New Orleans, LA Tenth Annual Convention; Program includes 18 stories of success. 580 residents and alumni attended. Theme: Oxford House – Time for Recovery.
    • 2009 Washington, DC Eleventh Annual Convention. 686 residents and alumni attended. Theme: Oxford House Together We Can.
    • 2010 Chicago, IL Twelfth Annual Convention. 732 residents and alumni attend. Theme: Oxford House - Celebrating 35 Years.
    • 2011 Washington, DC Thirteenth Annual Convention. 740 residents and alumni attend. Theme: Saving Money, Saving Lives
    • 2012 Oklahoma City, OK Fourteenth Annual Convention 750 residents and alumni attend. Theme: Oxford House  Good Neighbors Good Citizens.
    • 2013 Washington, DC Fifteenth Annual Convention 767 residents and alumni attend. Theme: Oxford House – Meeting The Need.
    • 2014 Portland, OR Sixteenth Annual Convention 967 residents and alumni attend. Theme: Oxford House – Building Community.
    • 2015 Washington, DC Seventeenth Annual Convention 850 residents and alumni attend. Theme: Oxford House  – Celebrating 40 Years.
    • 2016 Dallas, TX Eighteenth Annual Convention Theme: The Blueprint for Success – Achieving, Maintaining and Measuring Long-term Recovery.
    • 2017 Washington, DC Nineteenth Annual Convention Theme: Oxford House - Unique • Time-Tested • Evidence-Based.
    • 2018 Kansas City, Missouri Twentieth Annual Convention Theme: Oxford House - Recovery • Fellowship • Fun.
    • 2019 Washington, D.C. Twenty-First Annual Convention 1,647 residents and alumni attend; Theme: Self-Reliance • Self-Respect
  • Over 3,200 self-sustaining sober houses utilizing the Oxford House model.
  • More than 25,000 individuals in recovery living in houses at any one time during a year; with more than 46,000 living in an Oxford House during course of the year.