We just went through the season of sharing. Did you share? I did. Rides, credit, food, my two cents, yes, I shared. Others shared cars, jobs, children, a bed and even too much information. There are Sharing Cities, shared content, sharing in Dropbox and even sharing foundations. A sharing person is considered generous and willing to share (doesn’t say anything about actually sharing). There are times when I really don’t want to share — does that make me a bad person? After all, sharing is caring (who ever said that — no one). But I digress …
Housing is identified ad nauseam as one of the top issues in the Mid-Valley. What exactly does that mean? There is no discussion on what part of “housing” is actually at issue, but we hear about it at every meeting: Housing, transportation, healthcare … oh, if we could just solve these issues!
Having just completed the sale of a four-bedroom townhouse in Basalt, conveniently located on a public transportation route, and knowing four others in the same boat, I am baffled by the lack of interest in housing. After it was on the market for six months, I even attempted renting it. Other than two groups of five and two lookers with too many pets, nothing. I even offered a rent-to-own option. Look at Roaring Fork Swap — lots of housing in all parts of the valley. Housing is not an issue at all — so what IS the issue? Cheap housing.
Income-qualified options (the nice way of saying low-income options) are scarce and building new affordable housing has its challenges — financial, geographical and temporal (as they say, we aren’t getting any younger). Actually, building anything in the Mid-Valley is close to impossible.
What happened to the welcoming environment of the Roaring Fork Valley that was here in the early 2000s (when I moved here and settled in Basalt on the river)? We all love it here so much that we don’t want anyone else to “invade” our space? I got mine so keep the grassy areas empty and lock the gate behind me — sound familiar? (If not, just attend a town council meeting). Back to the issue … sharing.
We need immediate solutions to the housing need (remember it takes more than seven years, maybe more, to get through the Basalt development process).
So let’s look at what other communities are doing and have the 50-plus demographic leading the way!
Would you be willing to share your home? I am not talking about renting a room, locked off space or your ADU, but actually sharing your living space — YOUR space. Sharing: using, occupying and enjoying jointly with another person. Think of it as an opportunity for connection, another voice in your home, a solution to always having leftovers, having someone to ask if they need anything at the market. Sound crazy? Well, don’t tell the thousands of seniors in Colorado who are sharing away!
Think Airbnb for longer periods of time and more benefits (and many Mid-Valley HOAs don’t allow short-term rentals anyway). Seniors are the fastest-growing demographic for Airbnb, with women outnumbering the men (welcome to my nightmare). My couch-surfing friend in his 70s embarked on a cross-country trip a couple years ago and, where he didn’t have family or friends, he went the Airbnb route — very bold in my safe Marriott-loving world. He had some good times and a couple bombs, but I admired his adventurousness — although he cut the trip short as he missed home!
As home sharing, Airbnb pays seniors for sharing unused space — to the tune of more than $2 billion in 2017. Imagine the renovations, yard work and vacations that could fund. Aging in place could actually be lucrative. Forty-one percent of seniors using Airbnb say they rely on that income to make ends meet.
Following that thought, the Mid-Valley has several women (and surprisingly a lot of men) who live alone in 2-4 bedroom homes and condos that could share their experiences, knowledge and skills and could use an extra hand, a cooking companion or someone to care for their pets when they are hospitalized or traveling. Look around, I know several. A robust program would free up one- and two-bedroom rental units, fill up the empty bedrooms in single-family homes and provide a non-skilled caregiver for seniors who just need someone close-by, “just-in-case.”
I heard about this home-sharing program concept at an AARP Housing Conference in Denver (everyone is trying to solve the elusive housing issue). The name of this particular group is Silvernest. (There are others such as Sunshine Home Share and Senior Homeshares.)
The first thing that attracted me was the background checks. (Hey, I relocated from Chicago!) The second attractive point was the interest-matching feature — from gardening and hiking to sci-fi flicks and cooking. Mix and match your favorite attributes of your family and friends! OK — it may not be that thorough, but the daily activities, interests and adventures that may be shared are limitless. You may even trade work and help-around-the-house for rent.
Additional offerings, such as money-back guarantees, auto-pay rent options, housemate counseling and a legal concierge makes it an easy consideration. CNBC coined it “Golden Girls 2.0.” Can you imagine sharing your home with Betty White, er, Rose, Blanche, Dorothy or Sophia (we all have friends like them!). Silvernest estimates that home-seekers outnumber home-sharers 10 to 1!
Closer to home, I actually attempted to pair a home-needing person (living in her car and upset that our local police kept making her move at 2 a.m.) with a newly-diagnosed dementia person, and she thought it was too good to be true. She and her son were looking for the “catch.” All she had to do was live there on a separate floor, cook (and share) if she wanted to and call 911 if there was a need. That’s what a friend would do — correct? That was an eye-opener for me … a legitimate, structured, safe, pairing program might be just what the Valley needs. Why not share for rent? The comfort it would give to caregivers and family members is enormous, and you may make a new friend in the process.
We need some out-of-the-box thinking in the Valley to get some of these innovative programs vetted and/or up and running. There are some fees involved. Will large employers, municipalities and/or housing authorities pay the one-time $49.99 sign-up fee or the $29.99 background-check fee? Home-seekers apply for free (and the homeowners are already verified by the service), so perhaps they may be nudged through some marketing support. Is there an incentive we can create to entice homeowners to try home-sharing to allow for a more comfortable aging-in-place scenario? Should we host an informational session for homeowners and home-seekers on how and why it works?
What are your housing challenges? Do you have an idea for solutions?
Mary Kenyon is aging in place in the Roaring Fork Valley and has been working with Pitkin County Senior Services and Eagle County Healthy Aging over the past five years. Email her your ideas and senior matters at firstname.lastname@example.org