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Post: Next Avenue: For retirees, taking on a roommate may provide financial, social and practical benefits

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

Sue Ronnenkamp, 64, worked in health care and aging services for over 40 years. Her last job was with a startup company focused on the Medicare Plus market in Pennsylvania, but she lost that position in a layoff.

Ronnenkamp made the decision to shift to homesharing when she decided to leave Pennsylvania and move to Colorado in 2018.

“[Homesharing] allowed me to move far less stuff and make my relocation less expensive. I also believed it would be a great way to make the transition to a new city and state (my fifth one),” she said. “Moving alone is never easy because you have to establish yourself all over again and build new relationships.” 

Ronnenkamp knew about Silvernest, a homesharing service, and posted a profile before leaving Pennsylvania, ultimately finding an opportunity in Littleton, a suburb of Denver.  

“This has turned out so perfectly living here with my housemate Sue Larsen, her dog Tyndall, and her cat Emily. I love and cherish my personal living space, feel so comfortable here in Sue’s home, love the neighborhood, have become a part of her family, have connected with great people and services here in Littleton, and so much more,” Ronnenkamp added.

Increased interest in homesharing

There has been a significant spike in demand for homesharing that is being triggered by a perfect storm of events.

COVID-19 made loneliness and social isolation very real for older adults, rents are skyrocketing and forcing many to look for alternatives, and rising costs of living are especially affecting older homeowners, particularly since many are on fixed incomes, according to Riley Gibson, president of Silvernest.

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In 2018, the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies pointed to homesharing as a growing phenomenon, noting that 879,000 Americans over 65 were living with unrelated roommates. The center also presented data showing a dramatic increase in homesharing between 2006 and 2016, with an 88% rise in the number of adults in these arrangements.

2018 AARP survey found significant interest in homesharing, with 32% of Americans over 50 at least willing to consider it.

In a recent study by Silvernest, 66% of respondents said they’d consider homesharing, even though only 25% had lived with a non-relative in the past five years.

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Who is homesharing?

Silvernest usually sees arrangements that involve two people, who are often mixed genders, and who almost always didn’t know each other before. Demographic-wise, homeowners tend to be in their 60s on average, and renters tend to be in their 40s.  

“Studies show for some states, if someone makes less than $25 per hour, it is not feasible to find an apartment. Simultaneously, one in three homeowners are mortgage-burdened,” said Tess Fields, executive director with Home Share Oregon. “Additionally, most seniors are unable to afford expensive assisted living facilities and need to age in place; however, they need help around the house to be able to accomplish this.”

On Home Share Oregon, homeowners and renters are matched to one another based on compatibility, said Fields. “Many people will offer lower rent for help with chores around the house. Some people are looking for long-term leasing and others are more interested in a six-month lease.”

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According to Gibson, companionship is listed as the “No. 2 most important benefit of homesharing among Silvernest users,” second to extra income.

“As we get older, our circle of friends tends to shrink or our adult children move away with their families,” said Gibson. “It’s nice to have someone around the house for the social aspect, or even just to look out for each other.” 

Most commonly, Silvernest sees empty-nesters or recently widowed or divorced older adults with extra space turning to homesharing.

The financial benefits of homesharing

Rising rents and costs of living can make it extremely difficult for teachers or other service organization members to live close to where they work. Gibson said homesharing is a way for homeowners to provide housing at a reduced rate for those doing good in the community.

And on a macro level, homesharing can provide an immediate inventory of affordable housing. “Affordable housing for the aging is one of our country’s most pressing problems, and here’s a means to provide a solution at a fraction of the cost of other approaches,” said Gibson.  

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There are several resources available to find someone to share a home. It can be as easy as asking friends or posting a room for rent at a local community hub.

Additionally, nonprofits are popping up to facilitate homesharing, and local governments are beginning to sponsor programs to offer homesharing platforms in specific areas. In addition, Gibson said health care companies and member-based communities such as veterans’ organizations are piloting homesharing programs for their members.

Sharing Housing is an example of a nonprofit solely focused on homesharing. On the government side, the Montgomery County Housing Initiative Program in Maryland recently launched a homesharing program. The National Shared Housing Resource Center also lists local programs.

Establishing homesharing boundaries

Setting clear and mutually agreed upon structure and boundaries is the most important aspect of homesharing. Silvernest recommends documenting house rules and formalizing boundaries in a lease and/or a homeshare agreement.

“This means having conversations about guests, quiet hours, expectations around cleanliness and tidiness, rules for TV use or shared spaces like the kitchen. Also, have an empathetic conversation around social distancing practices, cleaning, and other COVID-19 precautions,” said Gibson.

Also see: World could see end to ‘acute phase’ of pandemic this year if countries pull together to get vaccines to all, bolster testing and sequencing, says WHO head

It’s critical for both parties to have a meeting of the minds on all these issues before they decide to move in together, so there are no surprises, and then to communicate along the way.

Gibson recommends agreeing on a time frame, while keeping things flexible with a month-to-month agreement. This provides stability and predictability, but also gives either party an “out” if the arrangement is just not working.

Gibson also advises that homesharers use a system to facilitate payments so that chasing rent is not a stressor; it is also easier to include utilities and basic monthly expenses in the monthly amount.

The space that Ronnenkamp currently occupies in the 70-year-old Larsen’s home was previously used as a guest suite. As a (semi-retired) teacher, Larsen was working with an AmeriCorps volunteer which led her to become aware of the need for cheaper housing. 

Larsen’s significant other, Jim, is also a retired teacher. Jim has his own house in another part of town — an arrangement that suits them both.  

“We come and go independently, and each have our own lives, but we also share some parts,” said Larsen. “We have brought neighborhood friends into our relationship and have done many activities together. It has added so much to our lives.”

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Ronnenkamp said she and Larsen often go on outings in the area, frequently accompanied by Jim. Ronnenkamp helps out with their house pets when needed — walking, feeding and taking care of them when Larsen travels. 

Another benefit? Ronnenkamp was grateful to have live-in support after she had hip replacement surgery last winter.  

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, publicity expert and author of “Mastering the Mommy Track: Juggling Career and Kids In Uncertain Times.” 

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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