Money Management

Looking for a rent-free or low-cost place to live? Give homesharing a try!

By  Elizabeth Blessing

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Homesharing is when two unrelated people come together for the purposes of sharing a living accommodation, such as a home or an apartment. Now you may think this sounds like a typical roommate situation, but there’s actually more to homesharing than that.

Homesharing is a term used by a movement started by Maggie Kuhn, an American activist who also founded the Gray Panthers in 1970, an organization that champions the rights of seniors. Kuhn realized that as people age they often face loneliness, isolation, and the real possibility of ending up in a nursing home. Her idea was to match up seniors who had extra space in their homes with younger people who needed an affordable place to live. Her idea caught on and in 1980 she founded the National Shared Housing Resource Center, a U.S. based agency that promotes the benefits of homesharing. Over the decades, the homesharing movement has gone international, with programs forming in Europe, Canada, Japan, and Korea.

A win-win for all ages

This intergenerational matchup ends up being a positive for both parties in a variety of ways. The senior usually charges their tenant rent that is much less than the going market rate. In expensive cities like San Francisco and New York, I’ve seen homesharing situations where tenants save 50% or more on their housing costs (equal to saving about $1,000 or more a month). In exchange for the low rent, the senior generally asks the tenant to provide help around the house doing chores.

HIP Housing is a non-profit homesharing agency in San Francisco that has been matching home providers and home seekers for 40 years. San Francisco is one of the most expensive rental markets in the world. According to Rent Jungle, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is an astonishing $3,600 a month.

The agency matches people who cannot afford the city’s high rents with older people who can no longer afford to live alone on a fixed income and have extra bedrooms in their home to share.

This short video tells the story of Selena, a college student studying to become a doctor, and Cordelia, a senior who shares her home through the HIP Housing homesharing program:

Opportunity to live rent-free

Some homesharing agencies use a different model that doesn’t have an exchange of money between the two parties. Instead, the home seeker exchanges their time and services each week for rent-free housing. This is the model used by Lucie Cunningham, founder of THE Homeshare, a homesharing agency in Dublin, Ireland.

As part of my Affordable Housing Tips radio show, my co-founder and I recently interviewed Lucie. She explained how her agency matches the senior with the accommodation seeker:

“Our program matches unrelated people who live together for mutual benefit. Typically, it’s an older householder who has a spare room in their home who offers this spare room to an accommodation seeker in exchange for about 10 hours a week of household support and companionship as well as an overnight presence in case of an emergency.”

Lucie explains the overnight presence of another person in the house is a huge benefit to the senior. A big safety concern for many older people is the worry of not having anyone around at night to help out if there’s an emergency, accident, or unexpected illness.

The chores that Lucie refers to that are part of the accommodation seeker’s responsibilities might include things like vacuuming, dusting, meal preparation, cutting the grass, or grocery shopping. Part of the 10-hour weekly commitment might also include social interaction, such as having a meal and a chat each day. However, this is not a caregiving situation so no hands-on nursing or attending to the senior’s personal needs would be part of the homesharing contract.

This kind of homesharing situation is ideal for a college student or a single person who works during the day and can be home during the night.

Where to find a homesharing agency

If you’re in the United States, a good place to start would be the National Shared Housing’s homesharing directory. You’ll find the names and contact information of agencies located throughout the U.S. If you’re outside the U.S., then check out Homeshare International.

While homesharing agencies vary in their policies, their mission is to match the home provider with an appropriate home seeker so that both parties can mutually benefit. This might entail asking both parties to agree to a vetting process that includes an extensive interview along with an income and criminal background check.

quote - while the financial benefits are what initially attract people to homesharing, its the social bond that keeps it going and makes it successful

The Bottom Line

As affordable housing becomes more difficult to find, I’m seeing more housing organizations and nonprofits adopting a homesharing model. There are now group shares for families with children. I’ve also seen homesharing opportunities that target specific demographics, such as single parents, empty nesters, and Baby Boomers.

I’ve studied homesharing for about a year now and one common theme that has struck me in reading stories about homesharers is how many of them begin to view one another as family. People form a social bond that transcends age, race, and gender. While the financial benefits for each party are what initially attract people to homesharing, it’s the heartfelt social bond that people form with one another that keeps it going and makes it successful.

What do you think about homesharing as an affordable housing solution? We’d love to hear your comments! Feel free to leave them below.

(Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered financial or legal advice. Not all information may be accurate. You should consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.)

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.

3 replies on “Looking for a rent-free or low-cost place to live? Give homesharing a try!”

Wow! I had honestly never heard of the home-sharing movement before I read your article @eblessing . I have a son who lives in a city that is rapidly catching up to NYC and SF for the title of “most expensive rents in America”, so learning about the existence of this practice might help me and him directly!

Do you know if/how the organizations you site in the story vet the young people they place in homes with seniors? I hate to reveal a pessimistic view of humanity so blatantly, but I must admit that I immediately wondered how many seniors get taken advantage of (theft, emotional cruelty, etc.) by the people that enter into these living arrangements, and what recourse there is when those “bad apples” are revealed?

Thanks @communitymanager for your comments! You bring up some good points. While each of the various homesharing agencies you’ll find from the links in my article have their own policies, my understanding from my research is that they take safety concerns seriously. As part of the matching process, potential homesharers may have to go through a criminal and financial background check along with extensive interviews even before they are matched with a potential roommate. The homesharing agency will generally help draw up an agreement for the two parties which outlines expectations and rules. The agency often continues to monitor the homesharing arrangement after the initial matching process by ongoing home visits and communication with both parties. I think the key for anyone interested in homesharing is to research for a reputable agency and to be an active participant in the process. The links in the article to both the U.S. homesharing organization and the international homesharing agency are a good start. Hope this info helps!

Hi @eblessing . I read about a startup this morning, Papa (https://www.joinpapa.com/), which just raised $10 million in funding to connect college students with older adults in need of assistance. Their mission aligns nicely with your article on homesharing, further expanding opportunities for younger and older generations alike to come together. @communitymanager , this may be of interest to you as another option for your son to consider.

Here’s a summary about Papa: Papa was founded in 2016 to connect college and nursing students, known as “Papa Pals,” to older adults who need assistance with transportation, house chores, technology lessons, and other services. By providing companionship to seniors who lack access to social networks, Papa seeks to curb social isolation and loneliness, which researchers have shown has the same impact on health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

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