Published in the December 13, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Home sharing program creates low-cost rentals in Larimer County
by Amy Reinholds
In the first six months of its new HomeShare program, the Larimer County nonprofit Neighbor to Neighbor has matched five pairs of homeowners aged 55 and older (called “HomeProviders”) and renters (called “HomeSeekers”) who are looking for an affordable housemate situation.
Debbie Mayer, coordinator for the HomeShare program, said that the program began taking applications in April, and the first match of housemates was completed in June. At the end of November, she said there are ten applications for both HomeProviders and HomeSeekers waiting to be interviewed. So far, a total of 24 HomeProviders and 44 HomeSeekers have been interviewed for the program.
The HomeShare program grew out of a discussion about the need for low-cost rentals in Larimer County, and the preferences for baby boomers and older homeowners to age in place. The Larimer County Partnership for Age-Friendly Communities approached Neighbor to Neighbor with the idea, based on other communities in the U.S. that had similar programs.
Neighbor to Neighbor is a non-profit in Fort Collins and Loveland that started in 1970 when a group of neighbors came together to help a neighbor avoid losing a home. Today, Neighbor to Neighbor provides a wide range of services from homelessness prevention through rent assistance, to housing search programs, and home buyer education. Neighbor to Neighbor is also an affordable housing provider with 132 rental homes in Fort Collins and Loveland.
The HomeShare program is based on the simple idea of two or more people sharing a home for mutual benefit, Mayer explained. 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. The Neighbor to Neighbor housing counselor also helps create the lease and living agreement for both parties.
The matching process takes some time to find the right housemates. HomeShare helps arrange a trial period option “for people to test the waters,” Mayer said. For as long as two weeks, a potential tenant might move in temporarily with a few belongings, to see if the housing situation works well for both parties. The HomeProvider has the option to charge a daily rate during the trial period. If that works, they sit down to discuss the particulars of shared living, which are drafted into a living agreement including terms and conditions. No two homesharing arrangements are alike, Mayer said. Each is tailored to the unique needs and interests of the people involved. She said the first match in the program started out with a 3-month lease and then switched to month-to-month.
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, Mayer estimated. 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.
“Based on what the participants tell me, house sharing is mutually beneficial if there is give and take with both parties,” Mayer said. Conversations to match housemates include talking about schedules, whether people are early risers, or stay up late, and discussing noise, and amount of time spent in the shared part of the house or apart.
The advantages can be great for both the older HomeProviders and the housemates who rent from them, Mayer said. “The HomeSeeker has the benefit of an affordable living situation, and the HomeProvider has the benefit of companionship.”
Mayer described HomeProviders who had expressed concerns about safety and the insecurity of living alone but found HomeShare to be a solution for those fears. Even simple tasks like taking out the trash every week, not even part of the formal living arrangements, has made a profound difference to some HomeProviders. Mayer said she has seen the significant difference that HomeShare brings to a sense of well being, security, and health for both parties.
“Also, to help with isolation, just having someone to give rides to the grocery store, or to church, makes a big difference,” Mayer said. HomeProviders are not specifically asking for driving help, she said, because most still drive themselves, but it’s the companionship that they value.
Mayer said one of the main challenges in matching people is matching the right cost. “HomeProviders are setting rents that work for them, and HomeSeekers need low rents,” she said.
Another challenge is pets. Often HomeProviders have pets, and sometimes the HomeSeekers do, too, which is an added dimension to making a match that works well for both parties.
And for some HomeSeekers who don’t have transportation, Mayer works to find them homeshare opportunities that are near public transit in Fort Collins and Loveland. A few of the aging HomeProviders are looking for people who might be able to help by driving, although Mayer said right now that is not a common request as a task for discounted rent.
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. I’m interested in whether a Boulder County non-profit might be able to do something similar for people in Boulder County. Mayer said that Neighbor to Neighbor based their program on guidelines and training from the National Shared Housing Resource Center and a non-profit called HIP Housing in San Mateo, CA.
There are also for-profit companies that help seniors find housemates for a fee, such as Silvernest, which I wrote about this spring.
Homesharing programs run by nonprofits could be one piece in the puzzle that helps the Lyons community with a need for affordable rentals after Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes in the September 2013 flood. To get an accurate number of housing stock lost, 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 (including 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.
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 affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. However, $4 million of federal disaster recover funds were still set aside for affordable housing in Lyons. After that vote, a few concepts for subsidized affordable rentals have been pursued, but Summit’s plan to purchase of the land in Lyons Valley Park is the first step toward that building process. So far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on six residential lots. To volunteer or to donate to Habitat for Humanity construction costs in Lyons, go to www.stvrainhabitat.org.
This column is a commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.