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Source 2: Homesharing

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One Way to Help Your Clients Save on Housing Costs

By Kirby Dunn

Homesharing is a common-sense approach to helping people stay in their homes, save money, and help others find affordable housing. In these difficult economic times, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in this affordable housing model.

What Is Homesharing?

Homesharing can be simply a roommate, but often there is a service component. Someone looking for an affordable room offers some assistance in addition to or instead of rent. Often, this is for an elder or someone with disabilities who needs help to stay in their home. 

Some programs around the country target assistance to the homeless or people with mental illness. Homesharing generally works best in areas with tight housing markets.

Homesharing can be a great affordable housing program. For instance, of the new homesharing arrangements started in fiscal year 2009 by HomeShare Vermont, the average rent was just $159.

Only 61% of those offering a room charged some rent. A quarter of the arrangements were service only with no rent or utilities, and 22% asked for a contribution toward the utility bills.

Homesharing doesn’t require ongoing subsidies or expensive construction or rehab. It is neighbors helping each other while helping themselves. For potential financial supporters, it is useful to emphasize that their gifts help two people at once.

Benefits of Homesharing

Surveys of HomeShare Vermont clients show there are many more benefits besides rental income for people who share their homes. These include:

 

Home Providers

You feel safer in your home.

82%

You feel less lonely.

77%

You feel happier.

82%

You enjoy your home more.

68%

You worry less about money.

36%

You sleep better.

50%

You eat better than before.

36%

You call your family less often for help.

50%

You have more energy.

55%

Household chores are completed more regularly.

59%

You feel healthier.

55%

How Does It Work?

The key to successful homesharing is the “match”—which must meet the needs of both parties.

For instance, someone might need a place to live, but they must be able to provide the services and/or rent. It might not be worth 30 hours a week of service, no matter how grand the home is. Getting both people to have reasonable expectations can be difficult.

While many people can find homesharing situations on their own, a third party such as a nonprofit can help when it comes to recruiting good candidates, providing screening, and offering potential matches.

Screening can vary by organization, but it often includes in-home interviews, references, landlord references, criminal background checks, and various abuse registry checks.

Getting two strangers, often from different cultures or generations, to live together successfully under one roof is not always easy. Simple things such as location, rent, gender, smoking, and pets are critical factors to determine compatability. Also important are lifestyle, schedules, interests, and personalities.

It’s really all about having a big enough pool of potential sharers so there is a likelihood that two will fit. This makes it more difficult to run in a rural area, as there are fewer potential candidates.

A History of Homesharing

Homesharing programs are increasing in numbers abroad and shrinking in the United States, according to findings from the first World Homeshare Congress hosted by Homeshare International. The Congress included representatives from nine countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Italy, England, Ireland, and Australia.

The U.S. is credited with creating the intergenerational homesharing model, but sharing housing with non-relatives has been around for many years. Nonprofits started offering it as a service in the late 1970s.

Initially, the focus was on helping elders remain in their homes. But in the U.S., the model has been adapted to help a variety of populations, including single parent households, the homeless, and individuals with special needs.

In 1986, there were 169 homesharing programs nationwide, mostly on the east and west coasts in places with tight housing markets. By 1994, there were over 400 programs around the country.

Today, however, there are only 65 formal homesharing match-up programs, many of which are very small and serve only one community or geographic area. Today, many people are able to arrange homeshare matches on their own online.

The National Shared Housing Resource Center (NSHRC) offers a number of online publications, including a do-it-yourself manual to help people homeshare if there isn’t an organization in their community. Craig’s List also makes finding a roommate easier and cheaper than ever.

Looking Ahead

Homesharing continues to develop. At the International Homeshare Congress, there was a new for-profit matching service in London and a new blog in Vermont for potential homesharers.

In Spain, programs are associated with universities as a housing option for students; others have a formal educational component combined with sharing a home with an elder; and still others focus on international students. Some programs are sponsored by the government, and they are envisioning homesharing as a type of community service like AmeriCorps or military service.

Many factors point toward an increase in the need for homesharing. These include the recession, the aging population, high heating and housing costs, and a decrease in average household size while homes have increased in size. Also, we know more of the dangers of social isolation and its effect on both physical and mental health.

Families are living further apart, working full-time and unable to meet the needs of aging parents. With the aging of the baby boomers—many of whom have shared housing in college—homesharing may be a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Bumps in the Road

Unfortunately, no national organization has taken homesharing on as a service, and there is no dedicated funding. The program is not easily compartmentalized into typical funding priorities: It doesn’t construct housing and it doesn’t just serve one target population.

Many nonprofits have one target group (homeless, elders, persons with disabilities), but for homesharing matches to be successful, the needs of both parties must be met. 

Often matches cross generations, incomes, or abilities. Advocates have a difficult time thinking beyond their own primary client.

Another major potential roadblock is liability. Individuals are sharing space, and they must be 100% trustworthy.

Homeshare International is planning the 2nd World Homeshare Congress in 2011. Homesharing will never serve huge numbers of people or solve the housing crisis, but it should be one piece of the puzzle for areas with tight housing markets. By promoting homesharing, seniors could save  on their housing costs—freeing up money to spend on other needed goods and services.

Kirby Dunn is a regional coordinator for the National Shared Housing Resource Center.

 

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