Homesharing for Seniors
It's not a nursing home. It's not assisted living. It's homesharing, where seniors live on their own, but together, with neighbors of all ages. And to find them, there are homeshare matchup programs, bringing together housemates for company and to share the rent. And then there are even co-housing communities consisting of a cozy group of cottages and townhouses around a common yard, landscaped with trees, flowers and ivy.
According to a 1996 survey by AARP, 84 percent of older Americans want to remain in their own homes. But sometimes, physical weakness, loneliness and financial need lead people to assisted-living sites or even nursing homes. However, for those healthy enough, a form of communal living is logical, less expensive and personally supportive.
Across the country, the idea of communal housing options for seniors is growing. Possibilities range from a low-cost apartment complex in Los Angeles to a middle-class co-housing townhouse on Staten Island, New York. In co-housing, young and old live independently, side by side. Especially for baby boomers, who may have experienced group living in college, the concept is not foreign or off-putting.
You could call this independence through interdependence. Everyone can help prepare dinner — there are common rooms. Sometimes a courtyard functions as a "town square" where all residents can come together. If you want to be with people, you come down and talk to someone, but if you want to be private that day, you can do that too.
Residents praise the cooperative spirit — and value being able to look out for one another or having a chance to interact with a stroller occupant. "I get to hold him every day," says one co-housing resident about a cheerful toddler. That same AARP survey found that 76 percent of respondents prefer to live in a mixed-age neighborhood. Another resident is a telecommuter who has little contact with the outside world when she's working, but through co-housing, she has people to have lunch with and gets to see kids when she does laundry — and then she goes back to work at her desk.
Homeshare matchup programs also offer many benefits for seniors, including independence, additional monthly income, household help — from routine chores to transportation to medical appointments — safety, companionship, and peace of mind for their loved ones who worry that the senior is living alone.
In either case — co-housing or homeshare matchups — a written agreement that spells out obligations wouldn't be a bad idea. It could contain specifics about the rent amount and its due date as well as types of services to be shared. Restrictions could be listed. And, importantly, how much notice a participant should give before withdrawing from the residence should be articulated — 30 days is typical.
As with many things in life, candor is key to finding a suitable housemate, as are flexibility, having realistic expectations and, above all, patience. You may want some help with housework and be willing to trade services — being a handyman, for instance — for reduced rent. You may enjoy the intergenerational companionship of college students.
Co-housing had its start in Denmark more than a quarter century ago. Today, co-housing has spread to more than 36 states. Homeshare programs exist in more than 20 states. Some compare homeshare matchups to a barter system where the seeker enables the sharer to stay safely in his or her home while paying a more manageable amount of rent.
Co-housing and homesharing are especially useful in communities where housing is very expensive. So, go ahead, consider the concepts. Making new connections and trying new solutions can be fun.
More information is available on Senior Homeshares and on the AARP website.