Finding roommates at 70
Nearly 20% of Home Share Now's home seekers, people looking for housing, are single women over the age of 65. While this story from the Daily Breeze is out of California, we've facilitated similar matches here in central Vermont.
Sharon Leonard remembers the hopelessness she felt the moment her new reality sunk in.Her two sons came over and helped pack up the belongings that filled her north Torrance home for more than three decades.
It was a worst-case scenario the retired child-care worker had been able to avoid when her husband passed away in 2002. One of the boys stayed home, invited a friend to move in, and they pitched in for rent, allowing Leonard to hang on to the three-bedroom house.
But as the years moved on, the 20-somethings became 30-somethings. Eventually, they moved out and started new lives.
Last year, Leonard found herself alone for the first time in her life. She quickly realized she couldn’t afford to keep the house on her fixed income.
“I cried and cried ... all the memories. In 35 years raising my children here, I didn’t want to move,” Leonard said, recalling sitting in her dining room, surrounded by family portraits, antiques and all the vintage keepsakes of a home with heart and history.
At 70, Leonard started apartment hunting. Everything was so small and expensive.
“Look what I’ve got, I’m gonna give this up?” she said. “I didn’t want to give up my buffet and my china and my piano.”
So with the help of her sons, Leonard decided to spruce up the house and find renters instead.
“I didn’t want a younger person moving in and out; an older person wants stability,” Leonard said. “I watched the show ‘The Golden Girls’ and thought, boy if I’m left with a home and nobody to help, that would be a good idea.”
A few months later, she found her Rose and Dorothy.
Leonard’s goddaughter connected her with Affordable Living for the Aging, a Los Angeles nonprofit that matches homeowners with spare bedrooms and seniors who need affordable housing.
The program not only enables seniors to live independently, but provides them with companionship. The only cost to participants is a $15 background check fee.
Leonard’s arrangement was made possible with the help of a $250,000 grant from the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is expanding the home-share program throughout his district, including parts of the South Bay.
It’s been nine months since Leonard’s roomies moved in. Both are single seniors (and were too shy to be interviewed).
Besides occasional crowding in the kitchen, the women have lived harmoniously. They share recipes and tips around the house, and have potlucks on holidays.
“I’ve been very, very happy with it,” Leonard said. “We all go to bed at the same time. That’s the good thing about being in the same age group, we like the same kind of a routine.”
Leonard’s roommates were the first candidates she interviewed last year as part of ALA’s extensive vetting and match-making process.
“We have 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day in this country and certainly people are living longer,” said Miriam Hall, director of the ALA Home Share program. “The goal for our program is to help people who have the extra space in their homes to live in their homes longer and allow seekers to live affordably in a very unaffordable city.”
The average age of home providers is 75 and seekers is 65, Hall said. The average month-to-month rent is $600 — an extra $7,200 a year for homeowners.
Only one part of the pair must be of senior age, but oftentimes, all of the participants are.
NEED FOR PROVIDERS
The program is looking for more home providers in the South Bay. While there’s a wait list for housing seekers, there’s a shortage of homeowners willing to take in roommates.
“We happen to know that the South Bay does have a large number of unused bedrooms, so that is one of our target areas,” Hall said.
Leonard’s arrangement gives her children peace of mind.
“Because my mom is older, we worry about her and it’s nice to know there are people around,” said her son, Chris. “That’s one of the huge benefits, her having people her age around we feel we can trust.”
Leonard hopes to be able to keep the house so that she can give it to her sons after she’s gone.
She realizes not all seniors might be as open to living with strangers, but said ALA’s screening process gave her relief.
Plus, the organization has resources for conflict resolution. If it doesn’t work out, a new match can be made.
“I’d say go for it because nobody likes to live alone and nobody wants to give up their home,” Leonard said. “I didn’t have sisters, so God gave me two. That’s the way I look at it.”
By Megan Barnes, Daily Breeze
Originally POSTED: 04/16/17, 8:46 PM PDT | UPDATED