More college students in the United States are having difficulty finding stable housing.
About 43% of students at four-year universities experienced housing insecurity in 2020, according to a survey by Temple University.
At the same time, more seniors are struggling to make ends meet, and one in four adults over the age of 60 live alone.
So, with the younger and older generations on the hook, why not get them to live together?
It’s not a new concept, but it hasn’t been widely investigated or normalized in the US, but the trend is picking up globally, and a couple of US programs are gaining momentum, including one in Southern California called HomeShare OC.
Natalie Hu, 19, participant. She attends Irvine Valley College and studies Psychology.
“I pay $300 a month for my room, which is a very reasonable price for me,” she says.
He lives with his landlady, Arlene Casemiro, an 89-year-old long-time widow in Dana Point, California.
“I don’t hate Nathalie at all,” says Casemiro. “She’s such a sweet, fun person and gets along with me when she’s in and out, which is good to know.”
Carrie Buck, executive director of Homeless Intervention Services in Orange County, says the success of these roommates seems similar to others she’s met since she started HomeShare OC just before COVID-19 began.
The pandemic slowed her efforts at first, but now she’s seeing more interest in the program. Rental students pay a maximum of $500 per month.
Students and homeowners sign up online and then Buck contacts both parties to begin working on the relationship.
“It takes a lot of trust to actually move in together. This is where our job really comes in to find out what each other’s interests are and then start the matching process,” she says. “And then we introduce them to each other over the phone and through Zoom and then in person, and then they finally make that decision if they’re going to move in together.”
Most of what is known about the benefits of programs like these is anecdotal.
Ho, for example, says she’s always wanted to live on the beach and was able to check that off her list of things to have this season by moving in with Casimiro. The cost savings were also a life saver. Other rooms to rent nearby usually cost four or five times as much.
“I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything as a college student by doing it, because it doesn’t stop me from, like, going out…to parties,” Ho says. “He didn’t hold me back from anything except student debt.”
In addition to the cost savings, another benefit is companionship. It is increasingly being enjoyed by seniors who live alone, Buck says, as are college students.
“Our college students experience a lot of loneliness when they go to college, go to school,” Buck says. “You don’t necessarily think about it, but that was really a major driver in getting students involved with us.”
On the flip side, there are some downsides.
Ernest Gonzalez, director of the Center for Health and Aging Innovation at New York University, runs a similar program on the East Coast. He says one of the pitfalls is ageism when it comes to recruiting senior citizens.
“The good news is we have hundreds of students who are interested in the program,” says Gonzalez. “The bad news is that not many seniors are aware of this opportunity, or have reservations of their own about having a roommate, however, a younger roommate.”
Gonzalez says he’s been watching the ratio for some time and it appears that for each student interested in the program, they would need approximately 15 seniors to maximize a match based on preferences such as location, pets and smoking. But until now, this has been difficult to achieve.
Buck says her program faces similar challenges.
“But we’re also having some success with one-on-one conversations, going out into the community and talking to different groups like women’s clubs, Rotarians, Kiwanis clubs, all those different groups that we encounter and talk to,” she adds. . “We will usually find one or two people… who are interested.”
Gonzalez also says public politics have been a barrier.
“there [are] A large number of low-income seniors who could benefit from this program, but live in public housing and/or on public benefits that are income-tested and dependent.” “Receiving income from a graduate student in exchange for shared housing may result in Endangering eligibility to receive public benefits. So we are careful during the recruitment process.”
It wasn’t much of an issue in Orange County, Buck says, but they have one homeowner with a reverse mortgage and aren’t allowed to charge rent.
It ends up doing well, she says, because college students also provide 5 hours of time each week for the homeowner as part of their stay. They help with tasks like watering the plants, running to the grocery store, or walking the dog.
“They negotiate about it,” she says.
Southern California is one of the most expensive places to live in the United States, and homelessness is a significant and growing problem. Buck says that reality makes solutions such as home sharing seem more urgent.
“I think it’s very urgent. During the pandemic, at our local college, which is very close to our city, the security guards actually opened up a parking lot at the university so students who were homeless could stay in their cars and be safe.” Now on the increase because all our benefits have now vanished.”
In the past few weeks, Buck says, the program has gone from having 100 people a month seeking shelter to about 400.
“It’s really astronomical,” she says. “At the moment, we cannot accommodate the needs of college students who contact us. So it’s absolutely imperative that we go out and talk to our homeowners and reach out to them, reach out to them and talk about the huge need that we have that they can help with and help get these college students to a safe place that they can finish college.”
Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe Pollard. Locke has adapted it for the web.