Two older Asian women preparing a meal together.
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Shared housing for seniors is a living arrangement between unrelated or non-partnered people who share a living space for mutual benefit. It can be a way to remain in one’s own home or find an affordable place to live in a senior living community. It can also provide companionship, a financial boost, and help with chores. Shared housing is a growing trend and movement that can prolong living at home and in one’s community. One reason is that the demand for affordable housing that meets the needs of elders far outweighs the supply, and the services provided are limited in their ability to keep residents in their homes as health care needs change. Beyond simply building more affordable housing, we must raise the standards of sustainable environmental design. Innovative support and invaluable quality of life are the standards to strive for. Therefore, shared housing offers a way to stay independent and avoid a cascade of mental, emotional, financial and physical health issuesIt can also reduce loneliness and social isolation.

Over the last ten years and the years to come, the number of households aged 65-74 with “severe” rent burdens (where expenditures on housing account for above ½ of household income) are projected to rise by 42%, making a “Senior Home Sharing” program extremely valuable. Home sharing is an increasingly important component in the quest to use existing housing stock more efficiently. It expediently creates more affordable room rental options, while at the same time addressing increasing crises in our rapidly aging population. Increasing homelessness among older adults is one consequence of this trend; the number of homeless older adults has increased by 33% over the last ten years. Another crisis that home sharing directly addresses is the increasing isolation that older adults can experience, particularly when they can no longer drive or their mobility becomes limited in other ways, which directly impacts both their physical and mental health.

Approximately sixty home share programs are currently up and running around the country. Clearly these programs have been established, some since the 1970s, as a way to help seniors find housing options, especially those who are house rich but cash poor and those who cannot afford renting. For many, the extra income from renting one or more rooms enables them to pay increasing property taxes, utilities, or maintain their home in a safe and functional condition. Best practices that make home sharing programs successful, include providing important services to ensure the success of the match, such as thorough screening mechanisms, criminal background checks, follow-up support, and conflict mediation. They also assess the needs of both home seekers and providers and offer referrals to professional development and education, mental health case management, food stamps and other community services and programs. Clearly, home sharing serves two populations of people, both seeker and provider. As mentioned, some home sharing programs go even further by providing wraparound services for both as part of the matching process.

Home sharing can also help the local housing authorities address low income people who cannot afford the rental market.  While more cumbersome, the housing authorities of several cities and counties across the U.S. have worked with home share providers to rent to low-income people. Cities, in particular those that specialize in tourism, like Reno, have a conundrum to work out in addressing the benefits of permanent shared housing vs. short-term rentals, but shared housing would help with that. A number of elements are important to the success of a home share program, including a sustainable funding source, a location where people can meet with case managers, and a thorough lease document. Yet the most critical factor is that a home share program develops a relationship with the local municipality. This link should be established early on and make apparent to city or county staff the mutual benefits for both the municipality and its residents.

Many seniors and retirees choose to homeshare with other members of the senior community. They might need financial assistance or seek companionship. Maybe they just need a friend who can remind them to take medication or help unload groceries. Some shared housing is arranged intergenerationally. This places someone in the senior community with a younger adult who can exchange personal assistance or other services for rent. For example, a 75-year-old retiree is no longer able to drive and often forgets to take his evening medication. He’s not ready to give up his independent lifestyle but can’t afford home care services. Instead, he contacts a homeshare program and is paired with a college senior who is willing to provide everyday assistance in exchange for a free bedroom. The terms of each home share agreement are unique! Terms depend on personal needs, preferences, and financial situations. While no two circumstances are exactly the same, shared housing is largely just people helping people.

There are several home-sharing programs available across the US. To get started, visit the Senior Resource Shared Housing Directory! Not quite what you’re looking for? Many other programs exist to connect seniors with housemates and roommates of all ages! Websites like Senior Homeshares help the aging community list and find listings for home-sharing opportunities, by creating individualized profiles that include personal needs, wants, and basic homeowner information. Unfortunately, Nevada does not have Home Sharing programs, but needs to develop them.

After you find a potential candidate or two, it’s a good idea to set up an interview and a home visit. You wouldn’t want to share space with someone whose personality isn’t for you. This is also the time to discuss expectations for each party. Many seniors find it helpful and safer to conduct background and credit checks. Services like TenantReports.com can easily assist at a minimal cost. Once you’ve found your ideal housemate, the final step is to draft a home-share agreement. This should be a written document that states all duties and responsibilities of each individual. It can be as brief or detailed as you like. A typical agreement will include rent and utility payments, household duties, guest and pet policies, kitchen use and food sharing, internet use, and privacy.

With the cost of living continuing to rise, splitting expenses like rent, utilities, and groceries can be a huge help for those living on fixed incomes. In addition, a home share can provide companionship, complementary abilities, shared chores and responsibilities, peace of mind for family members, help each other maintain independence, an additional source of income, social engagement, or even a built-in pet sitter. On the down side, home sharing can have personality clashing, different cleanliness and priority standards, less privacy, sharing where sometimes you just want your own stuff, disagreements about home temperature, potential of one roommate hogging a certain space or the TV, different noise thresholds, disagreements about finances, etc.

The concept of having a roommate isn’t limited to any specific age demographic. In fact, statistics show that the number of people over 50 living with roommates is growing at nearly twice the rate of any other age group. Boomers might seek a roommate for many reasons. Maybe you’re lonely, or maybe you want to age in place as safely as possible. Of course, there are financial benefits, too! What better way to add life to years!

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