Roommates Aren’t Just for Dorm Rooms: Seniors Find Companionship and Save Cash by Sharing Spaces

The rate at which seniors are becoming roommates is on the rise. They’re not exactly sharing chemistry notes and frat house addresses, but seniors are participating in homesharing programs being offered across the nation to be able stay in their homes and save money. The companionship they find is an added bonus. According to an AP story, “agencies that put such seniors together say the need appears to be growing as baby boomers age and struggle to deal with foreclosures, property taxes and rising rents.”

In most cases, elderly women who have been divorced or widowed need help with the upkeep of their house or apartment and have an extra room. So, they reach out to agencies specializing in homesharing to find somebody to live with who will pay rent. In some cases, people will barter for household help such as grocery shopping, housecleaning and repair work rather than charge rent; but, recently people have been in search of financial aid so they can keep their homes and remain a part of their community.

And, the companionship home sharers gain in the process is a definite plus. According to Kirby Dunn, executive director of Homeshare Vermont in Burlington, “Independence is great but isolation as we age is a growing concern, so companionship can be almost life-altering. People are telling us they’re happier, sleeping better, eating better.” Some homesharing matches find a lifelong friend and others find someone they can trust and respect while sharing living space. They may not all be Blanche, Rose, Dorothy, and Sophia, but the home sharers definitely are finding a solution to a potential housing crisis.

Various agencies across the country are helping people find housemates, whether they live in apartments or houses. Most offer services that include matching people to ideal candidates through screening processes to determine compatibility, much like those of online dating sites. And, seniors are taking advantage of those services offered by agencies because it is more efficient and safer than posting notices in local stores, paying for advertisements in newspapers, or posting online to sites such as Craigslist. While not a comprehensive list, the agencies listed below are some of the most reputable and successful in the country.

HomeShare Vermont

A small non-profit organization based out of Burlington, VT, HomeShare Vermont already has helped nearly 100 people remain in their home and found affordable housing for 83 people so far in the 2014 fiscal year. Operating since 1982 (formerly known as Project Home), HomeShare Vermont has 14 staff volunteers who contribute to the screening and matching process. HomeShare Vermont prides themselves on tailoring their services to individuals and remaining actively involved with their matches to offer assistance as their needs change or any challenges arise. HomeShare Vermont requires a one-time non-refundable $30 processing fee for all applicants and charges a Match Fee based on a sliding scale, depending on income. HomeShare also resizes to deny services to individuals who cannot afford their fees; fees can be reduced or waived in cases of hardship. While their primary goal is to help elders remain in their home, they do not have any age, ability or income restrictions in their services. They have found “that people of all ages and abilities can benefit from homesharing.”

Open Communities

Open Communities’ Homesharing program matches residents in the north suburbs of Chicago who have extra rooms with renters who need them. They have facilitated more than 700 matches since 1985 through their free, award-winning shared housing program. Open Communities’ Homesharing is ideal for homeowners, renters, and older adults with disabilities. Their screening process includes prescreening both homeowners and renters and includes getting to know applicants’ personalities, living habits, and expectations. To take part in the Open Communities Homesharing program, homeowners must have a separate bedroom to rent and be willing to share kitchen and laundry facilities. Renters are required to have a minimum monthly income of $1,000 and excellent references.

New York Foundation for Senior Citizens

The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens is dedicated to helping New York seniors enjoy life by remaining in their own homes and communities and avoiding being prematurely institutionalized. The Foundation’s free Home Sharing Program links adult “hosts” who have extra bedrooms in their homes or apartments with appropriate adult “guests” to share their space. At least one of the housemates must be age 60 or over, or the program will match “hosts” age 55 and over with developmentally disabled adult “guests” capable of independent living. The Foundation’s Professional Social Work staff screen all applicants and use QUICK-MATCH, a unique database to help them find the most compatible matches by inputting 31 lifestyle objectives. Once matches have been determined, the staff schedule “match meetings” to facilitate potential hosts and guests in determining their compatibility and willingness to home share. The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens also reports that applications for homesharing through their program have tripled since 2008.

HIP Housing

HIP Housing has helped individuals in San Mateo County, California, live happier, more independent lives for more than 40 years. Their mission is to improve housing and the lives of people in their community and enable people with special needs, either from income or circumstance, to live independent, self-sufficient lives in decent, safe, low-cost homes. HIP Housing offers two types of Homesharing: rent exchange and service exchange. In rent exchange, a home provider is matched with a home seeker who pays rent. In service exchange, a home provider is matched with a home seeker who exchanges services in lieu of or for reduced rent. HIP Housing arranges for applicants to complete an interview and a screening process and offers other services including Personal Housing Coordinator, home visits to seniors and home-bound individuals, Facilitation of Living Together Agreements and more.

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is Baltimore’s oldest nonprofit housing provider and has served over 118,000 families since 1968. With innovative and evolving programs, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center helps 3,000 low- and moderate-income families each year. The St. Ambrose Homesharing program matches homeowners offering an extra room in their home with someone looking for an affordable room to rent; the matches are based on varying levels of compatibility. Applicants can rest assured that their homesharing experience will be positive because St. Ambrose staff has years of experience and carefully screens each applicant through interviewing, background checking, and personal reference contacting. St. Ambrose homesharing staff also facilitate each homesharing contract and provides regular follow-up services while empowering home sharers to negotiate and create their own successful living arrangements. St. Ambrose operates in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Other homesharing resources:

Golden Girl Homes, Inc. – an organization dedicated to promoting and advancing shared housing, particularly for older women by providing information about shared housing and creating networking opportunities for women

HomeSharing, Inc. – an organization in New Jersey providing homesharing solutions in Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon, Morris and Union counties

National Shared Housing Resource Center (NSHR) – a clearinghouse of information for people looking to find a shared housing organization in their community, or for people looking to begin a program in their area

Image via Flickr by Arlington County
Post by Angela Stringfellow

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