Home sharing is nothing new—but the model may experience a resurgence across the country, and seniors are on the front lines of the movement.
The University of Michigan’s HOMESHARE program has seen a 10% increase in the number of applications received in the last year, says Ryan Cowmeadow, the program coordinator and vice president of the National Shared Housing Resource Center. Since 2007, numbers are up about 15%.
“A lot more people are looking at sharing their homes,” he says. “We attribute this to the [current state of the] economy, in many ways.”
A formalized shared housing model emerged in the 1970s following communal living trends of the ’60s, but the movement has experienced “dramatic swings” in popularity, the Affordable Living for the Aging (ALA) notes in Shared Housing: Best Practices, Challenges & Recommendations.
There are currently about 65 programs registered as members of the National Shared Housing Resource Center—down from peaks seen in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but indicative of a growth trend. The programs are responsible for making an estimated 3,000-5,000 co-housing matches each year, says Cowmeadow.
Many agencies are reporting “significant inquiries and interest” in launching new programs, says ALA, and this renewed interested is “motivated by the need to meet surging demand for affordable housing in a time of shrinking subsidies and economic distress.”
More and more people are looking at the option of staying in their homes, where they want to be, says Cowmeadow, referencing a statistic AARP consistently reports that 90% of older people want to “age in place” and stay at home for “as long as possible.”
However, the older population has encountered several “hiccups” that have prevented many of them from being able to do that, he continues, including a down economy.
“Home sharing exists as a great way to help make ends meet,” he says.
While each co-housing situation is different, Cowmeadow says there is one obvious trend: More homeowners are looking for financial support more than they’re seeking chore assistance help. However, the contracts for the home sharing program can outline both financial responsibilities and chore responsibilities, he says.
Due to legal reasons, the home seekers can’t provide any sort of hands-on or medical care, but they can help seniors maintain independence by helping out with laundry, yard work, house cleaning, or transportation.
Homeowners participating in the University of Michigan’s home sharing program must be age 55 or older. Those accepted into the program may be paired with other seniors, or with anyone aged 18 or older who is looking for affordable housing. There are a fair amount of intergenerational matches, Cowmeadow notes.
The average age of homeowners participating in the HOMESHARE program is 72, he says, while the average age of home seekers is about 42. Those averages have remained pretty consistent in the past couple years, says Cowmeadow.
The shared housing trend hasn’t exactly swept the nation, but it’s another way for seniors to remain at home rather than enter a designated senior living community. Seniors (45%) and low-income individuals account for about 80% of participants, according to the ALA.
“Aging in place models are well-suited to adopt home sharing as another tool for helping seniors stay in their homes,” says the ALA report. “While the need for personal care services is low, a larger percentage ranks assistance with household chores as an unmet need.”
Some senior living providers are recognizing the need to accommodate non-traditional households, though, and home sharing can occur in retirement communities.
Greystone Communities, for example, offers a variety of entrance fee refund options to broaden its market to a variety of possible household combinations, says executive vice president John Spooner, including friends or siblings who live together. Other providers may need to follow suit.
“There’s a much stronger push to help bring home sharing to the main stream,” says Cowmeadow. “Hopefully, we’ll see more programs pop up in the coming years.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace