How About a Roommate?
Homesharing is on the rise for practical reasons.
When the Golden Girls made their television debut in 1985, the idea of unrelated adults of a certain age sharing a house was kind of quirky. Today it seems the Golden Girls were ahead of their time. Sharing a home with someone you’re not related to is not just for sitcoms anymore. In many cases, it’s a realistic alternative for elders.
Let’s say, for instance, you find yourself single and living in a house that’s more space than you need, more than you can keep up, or more than you can easily afford. Renting part of your home to someone else can provide extra income. You might also feel safer with another person in the house. And if there’s a good match, you may even discover friendship and companionship.
From the opposite side of the equation, if you need a place to live and the rentals for decent apartments are spiraling towards the stratosphere (as they are), homesharing could be the best way to obtain a comfortable and affordable place to live.
The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies singled out homesharing as a growing trend in 2018. The center’s data showed 879,000 adults over 65 were living with unrelated roommates, an increase of 88% in a decade. A survey by AARP in 2018 found 32% of adults over 50 willing to consider homesharing.
The Perfect Storm
The Covid pandemic may have created a perfect storm: An overdose of social isolation and loneliness, soaring rents, escalating costs of homeownership, and stagnating income make the idea of homesharing seem more attractive.
Some housing experts say Baby Boomers are more likely to be comfortable with homesharing than the generation that preceded us. We’ve already had experiences in group living – sharing rooms in college dormitories, then splitting up house or apartment rentals to afford expensive cities on starting salaries. Some of us even remember those experiences fondly. Yes, we were younger then, but that’s not to say we’re “too old” to consider roommates once more. (Note: Please join me in pledging never again to use the phrase “too old” in polite company.)
Here’s an example of a successful share among adults (though slightly younger). Four single mothers in Washington, D.C., purchased a four-unit home together, and have effectively created a small urban commune within it. Their children range in age from 9 to 14 and treat each other like cousins. With a trampoline, hammocks, sleds, and an inflatable pool, the home is such a magnet for playmates that they call it “The Siren House.” The mothers share expenses, cars, food, babysitting, dog-walking, and hugs. One mother estimates the arrangement saves her $30,000 annually.
Matches Made Easier
Homesharing services are arising in many cities to help facilitate matches between homeowners looking for housemates and individuals seeking homes.
In Baltimore, for example, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center has offered a homesharing service for 35 years. “What sets us apart from answering an ad on Craig’s List is that we vet both provider and sharer,” says Shalawn James, director of St. Ambrose Homesharing. “We check references, do a criminal background check, look at financial stability. We make sure it is a good opportunity for both parties.”
Many turn to homesharing for the income, then stay for the benefits of companionship, help, or comfort.
Judy, for example, had rented rooms to college students but decided she would be more comfortable with someone closer to her own age. With help from St. Ambrose, she found Sarah, a woman she felt comfortable sharing her home with. In time the relationship changed from roommates to close friends and traveling companions. When Sarah had a stroke, Judy volunteered to be her primary caregiver. More than a decade after they met, the two are inseparable.
Home providers look for different things in potential sharers. “Seniors might look for someone who can do yardwork, or cleaning, and would be willing to reduce the rent in exchange for services,” says James. Other older homeowners prefer to have a younger person around – for one thing, having a young person coming and going from the house makes it less of a target for crime.
Finding compatible partners is a challenge, but there are useful tools to help. The national website Sharing Housing, Inc. provides online training and interview questions to use in screening a potential housemate. They also offer a guidebook with worksheets, and a list of local homesharing programs.
Homesharing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but keep an open mind about it. It’s another option to consider as our circumstances change.
Happy Birthday To Us!
With this issue, The EndGame celebrates one full year of publication. Huzzah! We’re having so much fun that you can count on us celebrating a few more birthdays, Lord willing and the cricks don’t rise. Stay with us, won’t you?