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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Seniors Welcome Housemates for Income and Company

Inflation has put a squeeze on the budgets of older adults but opening the door to a roommate can relieve the pressure and — in the best cases — add a friend.  

Plenty of older men and women are opening up to the idea of having a roommate, or “boommate,” as the baby boomer generation copes with rising prices. According to a recent AARP survey, 70% of adults over 50 are open to sharing their home with a family member who is not a spouse, more than half (51%) would share with a friend and 6% are open to sharing with a stranger. Tellingly, out of those who said they’d never share their home, 23% admitted they would change their tune if they needed the money.

“With the boomers aging, you see higher and higher numbers in shared housing,” says Rodney Harrell, vice president of family, home, and community at AARP. He finds that the current generation of retirees is more open to experimenting with alternative solutions to the traditional models of aging.

Four Housemates Share Space

In Asheville, NC, Marianne Kilkenny, 63, shares a home with three other women who range in age from 48 to 69. Kilkenny also owns a coaching business for prospective house sharers and offers workshops on the topic. Each woman has a bedroom and bathroom of her own, and they share a meal together a minimum of once a week. Two of the renters are divorced, and the third never married. 

House Rules 

If you’re considering getting a housemate, make sure to spell out house rules clearly in the lease or other signed document. Items to consider:
  • Smoking ban or limitations.
  • Who is expected to clean where and how often.
  • Can overnight guests visit? For how long?
  • Will one person pay the bills?
  • Collecting first and last months’ rent.
  • What about meal sharing/cooking? 
  • How will common rooms be used?
  • What about pets?
  • How long is the lease?
  • What is your exit strategy?

Kilkenny herself moved in at night a couple of years ago. It was pitch black, and one of the other housemates had made sure there was a light on to welcome her. “I was so moved,” she says. “It’s the little things that mean so much. Feeling cared about is worth going through some of the conflict that will occur.”

Another statistic that points to an increase in the trend of seniors living together is the number of older singles. One out of every three boomers is likely to reach old age without a spouse, according to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research. The rate of divorce for those 50 and over is twice what it was in 1990, and adult children are more likely to live far away.

Women Housemates Outnumber Men

Often, it’s older women who choose to live together. On Let’s Share Housing, a Portland, OR, online service for homeowners and potential renters, about 80% of the clients are boomer females. Part of the sex-based discrepancy may be attributable to finances. 

A recent study by the TIAA Institute found that a pay gap still exists for women. in 1973, full-time female workers earned 56.6 cents for every dollar their male counterparts pulled in, and the current ratio is still just 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the Census Bureau. That may help explain why the median retirement balance at TIAA for participants 50 through 64 is $221,492 for men, but only $117,040 for women. At age 65 and up, the median balance for men increases to $491,621 but less than half that ($204,304) for women.

Social Security is impacted by earnings. Here again, the average monthly benefit is higher ($1,824) for men than women ($1,437), according to 2020 numbers. Women are more likely to sacrifice their career to become caregivers, lowering both income and savings, according to TIAA notes. 

Friendship in the Big Apple

Retired copywriter Debbi Campbell never expected to want a roommate, but after her longtime live-in boyfriend died of cancer, that changed. She met Loretta Halter, a retired grocery manager, at a cultural event in New York City. Halter had used a local home sharing program when she moved to the city years earlier but wasn’t satisfied with her match. The pair went through the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens home-share program that handles background checks and administrative details to find their rent-controlled apartment in Greenwich Village. 

“First, we started with the crossword and the jigsaw puzzles, and the TV, and it turned out well,” Campbell says. She was pleasantly surprised at how well they got along. “I mean, I’m one of those people who’s spent a good time of my life in therapy, mostly complaining about people I knew.”

Campbell retired in October 2020, a little earlier than she’d expected. “I had not been desperate over money, but having a pandemic come, suddenly you have company where you wouldn’t have. And suddenly there is extra money for you from home sharing, which I wouldn’t have had. It was just a bonanza. I feel like the luckiest person of the pandemic,” she says.