Agencies Help Seniors Find Roommates, Companionship

Aging America Roommates
Kathy Willens/APCarolyn Allen, a 69-year-old widow who has suffered two strokes, didn't want to live alone and can't afford much rent, learned she could rent a room from another single senior.
NEW YORK -- It's not exactly "The Golden Girls," but for Marcia Rosenfeld, it'll do.

Rosenfeld is among thousands of aging Americans taking part in home-sharing programs around the country that allow seniors to stay in their homes and save money while getting some much-needed companionship.

"It's a wonderful arrangement," said the white-haired Rosenfeld, who when asked her age will only say she's a senior citizen. "The way the rents are these days, I couldn't stay here without it."

She shares her two-bedroom, $1,000-a-month Brooklyn apartment with Carolyn Allen, a 69-year-old widow who has suffered two strokes and no longer wants to live alone.

Agencies who put such seniors together say the need appears to be growing as baby boomers age and struggle to deal with foreclosures, property taxes and rising rents. The typical situation involves an elderly woman, widowed or divorced, who has a house or an apartment with extra room and needs help with the upkeep.

"Our seniors want to remain part of the community they were raised in, where they worked and went to church," said Jackie Grossman, director of the home-sharing program at Open Communities in the Chicago suburbs. "They don't want to be just with other seniors. Maybe they love their garden, their tool shed, and they would have to give that up if they move into senior housing."

At the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, where applicants have tripled since 2008, the average boarder pays about $700 a month. The same average holds at the HIP Housing program in San Mateo, California, but it is about $500 at the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore.

Agencies handle the background checks and other screening and consider various lifestyle criteria -- smoking, pets, disposable income -- in making matches. When a match is made the new roommates sign an agreement covering chores, overnight visitors, telephone use, etc.

Not all agencies limit applicants to seniors. In the New York program, only one of the two people has to be 60 or older.

The agencies' services mean people who want a roommate don't have to post notices in neighborhood weeklies or online and worry about who will respond.

Finding Companionship Safely

"Craigslist can be very scary, especially for women," said Connie Skillingstad, president of Golden Girl Homes Inc. in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, which refers women to housing resources including home-sharing. "They'd rather go through a respectable organization."

In the past, program directors say, many of the people offering space were willing to take household help -- grocery shopping, housecleaning, repair work -- in lieu or some or all of the rent.

Recently, though, more people have insisted on dollars rather than services.

"In the last five years, we've really seen more people looking for financial aid rather than barter," said Kirby Dunn, executive director of Homeshare Vermont in Burlington.

Companionship is an important side benefit.

"Independence is great but isolation as we age is a growing concern, so companionship can be almost life-altering," Dunn said. "People are telling us they're happier, sleeping better, eating better. If I could sell you a drug that did that, you'd pay a lot of money."

Long-Lasting Friendships

Grossman said many long-lasting friendships develop, "and for others there's just mutual respect and that's fine, too."

Rosenfeld and Allen, who have been roommates for three years, both said they feel more like business associates than longtime friends like TV's "Golden Girls," but they gabbed like sisters and giggled about the apparent highlight of their time together: "The bathtub incident."

Allen, who gets around with the help of a walker, had slipped in the bathtub and gotten stuck, with one leg wedged awkwardly behind her. She tried and tried but couldn't get up.

"If I was living alone I might have been there for days," she said. But Rosenfeld was home, and although she's too petite to extract Allen from the tub, she was able to call 911 -- and provide a towel for Allen to cover herself when rescuers arrived.

"Thank God Marcia was there," Allen said.

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Gloria Fischer

I ran, probably the first "Golden Girl" roommate add, here in South Jersey. It really didn't pan out for me, sadly. I don't want to give up my style & independence but the cost of living alone is crippling, considering 1/3 of my income goes to taxes. Unfortunately the only responder's to my ad were people who couldn't commit or couldn't afford to split 50/50.

August 02 2014 at 10:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My wife of 45 years is not in a home with Alzheimer's. So that leaves me alone sitting in an empty house. Not what anyone had ever thought of so long ago. I have thought of on line dating deals, but just how does one go on to say I want company, but I am married, in at this poiint in name only. Yes I would like companionship etc, but am frankly scared to allow someone to come into my home and steel me blind. Then just what do you do as it said in some comments tie up several years in courts. At that point the only ones who win would be the lawyers, your things would be long gone with no way to recover them. Just as I told the hospice people it seems to me that going into these things is liking to go out in th ewoods at night, put a bag over your head, spin around several times and then be told to walk out without hitting any trees. Impossible. I have called my state, Michigan and it seems that all I get are people dumber than I am who cannot or will not answer my qustions. How do you get around this is way beyond me at this point.

August 02 2014 at 8:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

has to be better than living in a senior bld, there are so many stupid rules----can't leave your door open, to get in and out only one access door, if you go to the patio you have to go all around the building to get back in, half the time the washers and dryers are not working in the laundry room, no bath tubs-showers only, your name has been passed out to solicitors for doctors, assisted living buildings, insurance, a particular junk mailer, can't back your car in to park, are just a few of them...

July 27 2014 at 6:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

My doctor refuses to treat me now after seeing her for 12 years. She made three times off my insurace plan verse what Obamacare decides to pay her. Obamacare is not working.

July 24 2014 at 5:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to liondog96's comment

Maybe you should lean how to read and stick to the topic

July 27 2014 at 12:42 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

You need to complain to the Am. Medical your state No one on a blog is able to solve your problems.

July 27 2014 at 3:39 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I lived so long alone, after my divorce, I don't think I could have someone else live with me.. I come and go when I want, watch tv when I want.. I work almost every day...I can't trust having someone else in my house if Im not there...roommates might work for some people... the problem is they would want to bring friends (strangers) in and me that's inviting trouble....

July 24 2014 at 2:23 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

This isn't new. My great aunt had a share arrangement in 1966. Later the young woman worked with me and lived in the same apartment building. Young women got cheap rent for living with old woman. 1982 or so I knew a college student who lived free with an elderly gentleman. His nephew didn't want him alone so they gave her free rent, no chores for showing up once a day. She cooked for him when she cooked for herself and would do what chores she had time for with work and school and dating.

It is good to have an agency to match people and do background checks if you can't find family to move in. My nephew expects to be widowed in the next few years so might decide we should share a house. I told him I am going to maybe have one build with duel masters in case I ever need live in help and he said if it worked out with timing he might like to share with me.

July 23 2014 at 11:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great idea for seniors that want their independence!!!

July 23 2014 at 9:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Wow, all these heavy serious comments! As a senior, I would like a roommate, but my requirements may be a little more specific than just shared female, under 40, long legs, shapely, adventurous, likes long walks, tender and affectionite, and a republican who is conservsative and likes to go shooting at the range. LOL

July 23 2014 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jnaylor284's comment

you dirty ole man lol ;)

July 23 2014 at 10:06 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

lolol, you mean , you want a classy hoe

July 27 2014 at 12:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I love this idea. My husband is still alive but we may need help in the future and we now have a small mother-in-law suite we could rent out. I would have to really be able to trust the person though. Perhaps there could be a trial period before papers are signed.

July 23 2014 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bejoda27's comment

If you decide to do this rental, I suggest you look for a trustworthy property manager who can do all the tenant hunting and credit checking. We have someone who does it for a rental house and a business property, and I don't have to do anything at all, as they take care of any repairs, even yardwork and pest control.....they collect the rent, take a very small fee (at least it seems small to me for all that they do), and send the rest to my bank account. If you know anyone in the realty business, ask him/her about this kind of service.

July 24 2014 at 2:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The main problem that I see is that Medicare will pay for a nursing home but will not pay for home care which is less expensive and better for the person.

July 23 2014 at 8:12 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to m5d7's comment

Medicare will pay for nursing home care for a period after someone is released from a hospital, but not for long term care. Luckily when my mother had to be in a nursing home for almost a year, she did have income to cover it, just barely. I don't know what people on Social Security only can possibly do.

July 24 2014 at 2:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gramargo's comment

the state takes the social sec and gives it to the nursing home to pay for your room food laundry but not your medicines. Most patients in nursing homes are broke but the state pays the care from their social sec. checks it isnt enough topay for a whole months care but it is reimbursed with state money as well. If youhave a home in your name the nursing home will take it or the family will use it as a spend down. if you dont want the nursing home to get your moms house then you need to sell it three yearts before she or he goes into a nursing home. If your\ dont then you are liable for the costs of her care. the state knows a person has hidden assets someplace with no verification of where the money went (in your pocket) so it needs to be done three years ahead of time before he or she goes in the nursing home.

July 27 2014 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

if you were to go to a nursing home you wouldnt be on medicare any longer the nursing home takes the social sec and you get medicaid (welfare..) How do youthink Nursing homes make money? EachPatient does get a stipend depends upon which state they are in possibly 100-150 maybe even 200 a month for things thye want when they go out hair care, clothes, shoes,,,perfume,, medicaid will pay fpr subsidized housing for seniors and disabled.

July 27 2014 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply