Seniors share homes for income and company

Mon Feb 7, 2011 4:20pm EST

Germaine Levesque (L) lays a plate on her kitchen table in Canada while her husband, Edmond Levesque (R) eats his soup across the international border in the United States of America on the other side of the table, in the town of Estcourt, Maine on March 27, 2006. REUTERS/STR New

Germaine Levesque (L) lays a plate on her kitchen table in Canada while her husband, Edmond Levesque (R) eats his soup across the international border in the United States of America on the other side of the table, in the town of Estcourt, Maine on March 27, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/STR New

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(Reuters) - Joyce Kane lives with two women who pay rent, don't smoke and like her cats.

Kane, a 64-year-old divorcee, has been sharing her central New Jersey home with strangers for 10 years and depends on them for both income and company.

She is one of a growing number of seniors across the United States who live with paying guests in their homes and find that the lodgers are not only an economic lifeline but also an emotional anchor.

"In order to stay in my home after a divorce I needed additional income," said Kane, who has had seven sharers and describes it as a wonderful experience, and one she recommends to others.

"I've had some great relationships with the homesharers," she added.

In New Jersey, such partnerships are brokered by Homesharing, Inc., a nonprofit group that links homeowners -- often but not always seniors -- with people who can't afford to buy or rent their own homes and are willing to take a room or two in someone else's house.

The service is free, although the group accepts donations from participants. Both the homeowners and the people seeking a home are thoroughly screened and everyone is interviewed.

"Our rate (of success) is better than first-time marriages," said Renee Drell, executive director of Homesharing, Inc, one of many similar organizations across the United States.

Demand from both homeowners and those who want to live in their houses increases every year, and has accelerated with the economic downturn.

"What has been happening the last few years is that more people who are homeowners need this as other costs rise and their income remains stable," Drell explained. "And there is always the population that need this program, but it has increased in intensity now as people have lost their jobs. "

She has seen demand increase by about 19 percent from 1,610 clients in 2009 to 1,912 through November 2010. Those looking to move into someone else's home are often middle-aged women who have fallen on hard times.

"Mostly, it is single women aged 50 to 55 who are downsizing, and their reasons are usually financial," she said.

Patty Milano, 54, and her 80-year-old mother share the home of an 87-year-old woman named Helen, who asked that her last name not be used. Milano and her mother moved into Helen's four-bedroom suburban house late last year because they couldn't find an apartment they could afford.

Milano, who cleans houses when she can, is largely dependent on a monthly government check following the death of her husband, a former Marine. Her mother lives on social security payments.

They pay a combined $700 a month to live in Helen's house for two bedrooms, a shared bathroom and use of the kitchen.

Although Helen said the sharers' income is welcome, their company is what she values most.

"It really has some very healthy benefits," said Drell.

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