Published in the May 3, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Online service helps baby boomers with home sharing

by Amy Reinholds

At the end of last year, I wrote about home sharing programs for older members of the community that also could also create more affordable opportunities for renters of all ages. The Fort Collins and Loveland non-profit called Neighbor to Neighbor started a matching program to help homeowners age 55 and older rent out parts of their homes to younger people. This spring, Neighbor to Neighbor is going through the application process for home seekers and home providers, working with a network of organizations who work with seniors and with people seeking affordable housing. Lyons and Boulder County could learn from how this approach works in Larimer County.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Wendi Burkhardt, co-founder of Silvernest, an online service that helps baby boomer-aged homeowners find people to share their homes, an example from the business start-up world that might match well with Lyons. She said many people who are reaching retirement age don’t have adequate retirement savings, but many older homeowners who are empty nesters do have extra rooms in their homes. And in a tight rental market, more lower-cost rentals are needed.

Burkhardt started Silvernest with Chuck McKenney three years ago in the Denver metro area. Today, the online service at silvernest.com that helps homeowners 50 and older find renters for spaces in their homes, has 40,000 users in all 50 states.

Colorado is the third most rapidly aging state,” Burkhardt said, noting that state government and organizations are seeking creative solutions to age well across all parts of the state, including rural areas. “To try to adjust to the challenges of aging requires new solutions,” she said.

Silvernest has 8,000 users in Colorado, she said, with a majority in Denver and Boulder, but the Longmont area has been a very strong market.

Across the country, there are about 50 million people over age 50 who have less than $50,000 savings in the bank, Burkhardt said – at the same time when the costs of retirement are increasing as people live longer. This serious problem is often not talked about because of embarrassment or fear of asking for help, but Burkhardt points out that a home sharing model can encourage people to help others, while it helps their retirement income at the same time.

Silvernest charges a one-time matching fee of $49.99 to help a homeowner find a renter. This fee includes 60 days of online communication and screening of prospective renters and homeowners, and it is refunded fully if a homeowner doesn’t find a match.

A new subscription option can be added for $9.99 a month, which provides customized leases (including copies that both the homeowner and renter can access online), automatic rent payments, and a qualified homeshare coach to help both parties design agreements and address mediation issues if needed. Relisting for a new match in the future is also covered without an additional matching fee.

We’ve all been trained to think we’re supposed to age in a certain way,” Burkhardt said. “As you grow older, you start to lose your community. But how you continue to build community, and how you define your community has an impact on your health.” She mentioned a study that socially isolated older people had health issues similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Silvernest is about “empowering people to have the tools available to open up home sharing as an alternative,” Burkhardt said. She said instead of more traditional options of moving to housing where only older people live, individuals can choose to design their unique living environment and their communities how they want to.

Silvernest is designed for people age 50 and older, described as “baby boomers and beyond.” Burkhardt said the average age of users is 65, and a majority female.

Burkhardt was inspired by her own experience as a daughter of a widowed mother, active at age 70, but who had never lived alone. Her mother had a friend near her own age who needed a place to live, and it worked out well for both of them to share a house. That happy end result is what she hopes for all Silvernest users, although each situation will be unique to the individuals.

More information about Silvernest is available at www.silvernest.com. The company plans an ambassador program later this year for people who are interested in sharing information with others about home sharing as an option for aging well.

The Town of Lyons lost about 76-94 flood-destroyed homes. To get an accurate number of housing stock lost in the September 2013 flood, there are two ways to count. First, according to counts of Town of Lyons water taps/customer accounts, 94 customer accounts were lost after the flood (taking into account the 32 homes in Riverbend Mobile Home Park that were originally part of one water tap). However, some of those customer accounts were on Apple Valley Road (not in town limits), and some lots in town have more than one water tap/customer account. A second way to count is the number of flood-damaged homes in the Town of Lyons lost to both the federal buyout programs and to the changed use of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use), which totals 76 lost residential units. Federal buyouts totaled 44 units – including all residential units in the Foothills Mobile Home Park – and there were also 32 families who lost homes in the Riverbend Mobile Home Park, which was rezoned as a commercial wedding and lodging venue after the flood.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @ hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.