Homesharing could address both aging in place and low-cost rental needs
COMMENTARY: Affordable Housing in Lyons
Published in the Oct. 13, 2019, edition of the Redstone Review.
By Amy Reinholds
LYONS – Seeking programs that help both our local aging population and renters who need low-cost options, the Lyons Housing and Human Services Commission is intrigued with homesharing ideas.
According to the National Shared Housing Resource Center, “Homesharing enables two (or more) unrelated people to share housing for their mutual benefit. A person offers a private bedroom and shared common area in exchange for rent, help around the house or a combination of the two. Every homesharing arrangement is unique. It’s about people helping people.”
We have seen two models of homesharing in Colorado related to empty-nesters and aging baby boomers: a non-profit approach like the Neighbor to Neighbor HomeShare program in Larimer County, and an online matching business approach like Silvernest, started by a Colorado entrepreneur inspired by concerns her own mother faced living alone. Rather than housemates just finding each other through mutual friends or social media, these programs are more structured and provide some support, an approach the Housing and Human Services Commission wants to encourage in this challenging housing market.
Neighbor to Neighbor HomeShare program in Larimer County
Since its HomeShare program started in 2018, the Larimer County nonprofit Neighbor to Neighbor has matched about six pairs of homeowners aged 55 and older (called “HomeProviders”) and renters (called “HomeSeekers”) who are looking for an affordable housemate situation.
A person offers a private bedroom and shared common space in exchange for low-cost rent, help around the home, or a combination of the two. Neighbor to Neighbor facilitates the HomeShare program by providing a housing counselor to help match HomeProvider participants with HomeSeeker participants with compatable lifestyles. Neighbor to Neighbor interviews, screens, and runs background checks on all applicants to identify appropriate potential matches. The housing counselor helps create a living agreement for both parties and helps HomeProviders access lease templates.
Most of the HomeProviders rent a private bedroom and bathroom, and some also include another room such as a sitting room or living room space. Often the empty nesters rent a furnished room, such as a former guest room, which is helpful for many HomeSeekers who don’t have a lot of furniture. Most of the situations include sharing a kitchen. The average monthly rent is about $600, according to Debbie Mayer, coordinator for the HomeShare program, when I interviewed her at the end of 2018. Some monthly rents are as low as $300 and some as high as $750, and some include discounts for housemates who agree to completing regular tasks and chores such as walking dogs or preparing meals. There is no cost except a $25 fee to cover the costs of running background checks, and a sliding scale is available for those in need.
Even homeowners in the south end of Larimer County near Lyons can participate in the program if they are age 55 and older and have a space they want to rent out in their homes. For more information, contact www.n2n.org/rental-options/homeshare. These HomeProviders in Larimer County would be matched with HomeSeekers who live, work, or go to school in Larimer County. The Lyons Housing and Human Services Commission is interested in whether a Boulder County non-profit might be able to do something similar for people in Boulder County.
Silvernest online matching service
Four years ago in the Denver area, Wendi Burkhardt and Chuck McKenney started Silvernest, an online service that helps homeowners 50 and older find renters for spaces in their homes. When I talked with Burkhardt last year, Silvernest had 40,000 users in all 50 states, and about 8,000 users across Colorado. At that time, she said a majority of users were in Denver and Boulder, but the Longmont area was a very strong market.
Burkhardt pointed to data that showed that there are about 50 million people over age 50 across the county who have less than $50,000 savings in the bank. And at the same time, the costs of retirement are increasing as people live longer. Instead of embarrassment or the fear of asking for help, she said that homesharing can encourage people to help others, while it helps their retirement income at the same time.
According to silvernest.com, homeowners pay a subscription of $24.99 a month, which provides background checks, legal consultation, customized homesharing agreements (including copies that both the homeowner and renter can access online), automatic rent payments, access to homeshare coaches, and relisting for new matches in the future. Renters have no fees to sign up, and only pay $29.99 for an optional background check, which is good for 90 days.
Homesharing in Lyons, with support from programs like Neighbor to Neighbor or Silvernest, could be an option to address both housing and aging challenges.
In addition to the tight housing market across Colorado, Lyons is still dealing with the loss of about 76 to 94 destroyed homes in the 2013 flood. In March 2015, a proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. More than four years later, four Habitat for Humanity homes were completed at 2nd and Park Streets, and a final duplex building with two more homes is still underway. Those six homes are a great help to Lyons, but much more is needed, including affordable rentals. Earlier this year, the State Housing Board approved Summit Housing Group’s application for $4 million in federal disaster funds for a proposal to build 11 single family homes and 29 homes in multifamily buildings on land the company plans to buy in Lyons Valley Park. All 40 proposed homes would be rentals affordable to households with incomes at 60 percent or less of the area median income.
Amy Reinholds served on the Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force from December 2013 through its end in February 2015. She is currently a member of the Lyons Housing and Human Services Commission. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995. She writes a monthly commentary (opinion column) in the Redstone Review about affordable housing after the 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. For a history, see previous columns on her blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.