Moving America Forward

For Seniors Needing Extra Income, Ditching the Single Life and Getting a Roommate Can Be the Answer

August 4, 2014
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For Seniors Needing Extra Income, Ditching the Single Life and Getting a Roommate Can Be the Answer
To make ends meet, some elderly people have become roommates. Getty Images
Calling all single ladies: These programs provide more affordable housing and companionship for senior citizens.

Usually by the time you’re 60, having a roommate isn’t a high priority, or even on your radar. After all, roommates are for college students or those attending summer camp — not those entering their golden years.

However, as the baby boomers prepare to enter retirement, having a roommate may be necessary to make ends meet or to provide a little companionship. That explains why seniors across the country are trading in the single life and turning to senior home-sharing programs.

Most of the participants are widowed or divorced elderly women looking to fill an empty room. With foreclosures, property taxes and high rents posing problems for the elderly, the extra income of another companion can make all the difference.

So why use these programs instead of advertising for a roomie on Craigslist or in the newspaper? It all comes down to safety and comfort. These agencies conduct background checks and other screenings, while also looking into personality traits and lifestyle preferences.

When a match is made, the new roommates sign an agreement outlining chore duties, telephone use, visitor frequency and other details.

Participants seem to be satisfied, as these programs continue to see a rise in membership. For instance, the number of applicants to the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens has tripled since 2008. And interestingly, senior citizens aren’t the only ones getting involved. Many programs are open to applicants of all ages, such as the New York Foundation which only requires that one of the two roommates be over 60.

Perhaps, though, the most important service that these programs are providing is companionship. For the elderly who no longer have a household full of kids or a spouse, the days can be lonely and having that companion can make a world of difference

Kirby Dunn, executive director of Homeshare Vermont in Burlington, has noticed the positive impact of the roommate programs. “Independence is great but isolation as we age is a growing concern, so companionship can be almost life-altering,” Dunn told the Associated Press. “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.”

So while these seniors may not be pulling all-nighters with their roommates or labeling all the food in the refrigerator like in college, senior home-sharing programs are proving that life is always a little sweeter with someone to live with, no matter how old you are.

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