Shared housing in the community setting is growing in popularity among the elderly across the country. This may be defined as a residential situation where two or more unrelated persons live together as a “family of choice” sharing common areas of the home such as kitchen and family room while maintaining some private space like bedrooms, baths and sitting rooms. Match up programs take a variety of formats that include a screening component and some degree of compatibility testing. Mutually beneficial relationships can be forged that result in prolonged independence in the community for the senior whether they happen to be the tenant or landlord in the particular relationship. One example cited by New York Foundation for Senior Citizens on their web site at www.nyfsc.org points to a 22 year old college student, Lauren Palmer, who rents from an 89 year old widow. Palmer pays rent and helps with errands; but other than this, the two function independently. Palmer says, “We do things for each other. Whoever gets up first makes the coffee.” Economics certainly are an incentive here, however the companionship aspect of this arrangement will have significant benefits for both parties.
Formal programs that act as referral and screening resources are popping throughout the country and can be found on the National Shared Housing Resource Center web site at www.nationalsharedhousing.org. This all volunteer, non-profit organization situated in Philadelphia, PA is dedicated to educating interested parties in the development and implementation of shared housing programs in their community along with providing a national directory of active programs. They provide manuals and technical support for building such a program in your community. A quick scan for New York State indicates programs in all major enclaves with the exception of Buffalo.
A survey performed by Leo Cram from the Missouri Gerontological Institute projects that 2.5% of all households aged 55 or older contain at least one non-relative. He estimated that about 7% of the current elderly population expresses an interest in sharing their current residence with at least one other person. The National Shared Housing Resource Center points out that in addition to companionship and economic support, shared living programs help preserve housing stock by making maintenance affordable while at the same time saving public housing and health care dollars. It is projected that by 2050, the number of persons over 65 in our country will be about 20% of the entire population. As the baby boom generation moves toward their later years we will certainly see an increase in shared housing and other creative interventions that will help close the economic and social gaps in our present systems.