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The percentage of our population over the age of 65 continues to explode with 10,000 people crossing into “retirement” on a daily basis. Service delivery systems and living situations for seniors are already strained beyond capacity for those with some degree of need. In most of Western New York, subsidized senior apartments have waiting lists ranging from 6 to 18 months. It is clear that safe and affordable housing will become an even greater issue as our senior population blossoms both locally and throughout our country.

An alternative that reduces isolation and increases affordability is shared housing. This pooling is functional and financially logical, as it gives seniors companionship and extra money in their pockets. Many of us remember Golden Girls, an Emmy award winning series where Rose, Dorothy and Sophia moved into Blanche’s Miami home to share expenses and companionship, and provided laughs to audiences while doing so. The underlying issues of relief from isolation and significantly improved finances were the cement that held the series together.

The 2010 census reported that “the number of shared households increased by 11.7% from 2007 to 2010”. Certainly the recession played a part in this statistic. Indeed, there is no differentiation here with respect to age in these numbers but it’s clear that tremendous benefit would be realized for those seniors with financial woes and/or functional deficiencies. While some seniors may be uncertain about having a “roommate,”doing so would maximize their resources and divide up the maintenance necessary to maintain a safe and clean household.

The National Shared Housing Resource Center (NSHRC) offers a variety of resources to those who might have an interest in either starting a program or using shared housing in their life. NSHRC says that there are three types of shared housing. The first type is a Match-Up Program, which helps locate suitable home seekers for those who register with the center in the hope of finding compatible housemates. The second is a Shared Living Residence and this setting involves 3 or more people living in a larger dwelling in a cooperative manner, and looks something like a “boarding home.” Lastly, there are Information-Only Programs that simply provide referrals to other agencies with a limited degree of advisement. Seniors utilize each of these programs given their needs and ability to navigate the system.

Indeed, seniors have been utilizing shared housing for a number of years as it benefits them, their housemates, and the community as a whole.Shared housing takes seniors off of waiting lists for “elderly” homes and efficiently uses existing stock by keeping or moving seniors into homes. By keeping seniors in their homes longer, it preserves the integrity and history of neighborhoods and provides seniors with a sense of independence.

And housemates don’t always have to be other seniors, which was picked up by Golden Girls. Graduate students and young professionals make good housemates too—some young tenants do household chores for their senior landlords, and the sense of companionship gained by having a housemate makes aging independently much more attractive.

Seniors renting out their homes attain financial benefit too: monthly payments from renters help offset the costs of owning a home, buying groceries, or paying for medical treatment. Compensation can also take the form of performing household chores and duties that may have become more difficult with age.