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Shared Housing for Seniors

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerFebruary 27, 2017
Shared Housing for Seniors

A well-known show, “The Golden Girls” showcased four aging women who took a creative approach to senior living — shared housing. But does the reality of home sharing for seniors actually compare to the situational sitcom many Americans know and love?

Read more about the benefits of shared housing for seniors below.

Benefits of Home Sharing for Seniors

Shared housing is a long-term living arrangement between two unrelated people who choose to live together to take advantage of the mutual benefits it offers. How many older adults in the United States are home sharing? It’s hard to say exactly, but:

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“According to AARP figures in 2013, four million women 50 and older were living in U.S. households with at least two women in the same age group,” The Mercury News reports, noting that “as people are living longer and facing rising health care and housing costs, shared housing can really fill a need.”

Rodney Harrell, director of Livable Communities for AARP’s Public Policy Institute, told The Mercury News that “one of the things we hear a lot is that people do want to age in place. In our latest survey, 8 out of 10 people over 65 want to stay in their own homes or a home environment as long as possible. Shared housing is a great option for someone that’s open to it,” he says. “It can provide companionship, save costs, and provide a feeling of security having other people in the home.”

For older adults contemplating home sharing, there are plenty of benefits to consider, including:

Companionship

Seniors who live together — whether at home or in a retirement community — live a healthier lifestyle because they usually eat better, get more exercise, and are more social than seniors who live alone. As with “The Golden Girls,” companionship, friendship and a support system are arguably the biggest benefits of home sharing, and are part of the reason the phenomenon is trending. But the benefits of companionship, friendship and support are also available to older adults in senior living communities. So why home share?

Doug and Mardi Tindal of Stratford, Ontario, told the CBC that their retirement plans include finding a large house to buy and convert into six different units with shared spaces so they can live their golden years with their friends.

“Each couple or individual would have their own bathroom, bedroom and some living space. They’d share the kitchen, laundry and living room. Dinners would be eaten together, like a big family,” the couple says. “We’re healthy, vibrant people… we’re not decrepit going into this, we’re actually quite strong and resilient.”

For older adults who are young at heart, there’s an excitement that home sharing brings. “It’s kind of like dating,” Tindal told the CBC when asked about their process for selecting roommates. But, like dating, finding the right roommate can sometimes be a challenge.

Independence and Safety

For seniors who want to remain independent, but shouldn’t live alone, home sharing offers a cost-effective alternative to home care.

Older adults who participate in shared housing can enjoy the safety of living with someone else, including not having to worry about forgetting medications (someone is there to remind you), or falling and not being found.

Saving Money

Home sharing is an affordable alternative to some senior living communities, making it ideal for low-income seniors.

The person who owns the home can charge rent to offset the costs of their house. Often, the homeowner charges a lower-than-average rent in exchange for help around the house,  shared groceries, transportation etc. The homeowner and renter can also split the costs of the internet and other living expenses with the renter, making it a mutually beneficial living arrangement for all parties.

How to Select the Right Roommate

There are disadvantages to home sharing, and finding the right roommate is one of the biggest challenges. When you live in a retirement community you know that a team of professionals has screened the other residents, but when you participate in shared housing, that screening process is up to you.

Finding a roommate who is compatible, trustworthy and will pay their bills on time isn’t necessarily easy. The best bet is to home share with a friend, or at least a friend of a friend. But even if you share housing with a friend, there can be drama.

There are services that exist to help connect older adults looking for housemates (the Golden Girls Network is one). Still, like dating sites there is no guarantee that the “matches” you get will work out, and in a world where senior scams are on the rise, seniors should exert extreme caution when looking for a roommate.

Ways to Get on the Same Page

If you decide to home share and you do find someone you get along with and trust, then it’s important that you talk about your expectations and set ground rules from the start. Some important considerations to set “rules” around include:

  • Guests
  • Household duties
  • Kitchen use, including food sharing
  • Parking
  • Pets
  • Privacy
  • Television/radio/phone and internet use
  • Utility payments and splitting other costs

“Shared housing — if handled properly with upfront agreements — is a vital option for seniors,” Harrell says.

Ultimately, if you’re going to go through with home sharing it’s critical to talk to a local attorney to get an agreement drawn up that outlines the expectations of both parties. Similar to a tenancy agreement, talk to your lawyer about including the ground rules (and consequences for breaking the agreement) in writing for the safety of both parties.

For many active older adults like the Tindals, shared housing is an fun, exciting option to make retirement savings last a little longer. But it’s not for everyone. Be cautious if going this route and ensure your own personal needs and safety are put first.

Do you think shared housing is a good option for you or a senior loved one in your family? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Kimberley Fowler
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Kimberley Fowler

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