Shared Housing

Accessory Dwelling Units (or ADU's) have been a feature of the housing landscape for years. In bygone days, they were know more familiarly as “Granny Flats” and “In-Law Apartments” — names that reflect a time when society could still rely on the extended family structure to care for elders when they could no longer live independently.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
  Photo courtesy of Kiki Wallace
 

A “granny flat” or garage apartment in Prospect, a new urbanist community in Longmont, CO.

 

ADU's are making a comeback. Though by no means ubiquitous, ADU's in the form of garage apartments, carriage houses, ancillary units are a popular amenity and an important selling point in many new urbanist communities. Their most attractive aspect, for many home owners,  is the potential for extra income from renting out the unit. Other home owners, however, view the extra space as a flexible addition that can be used as a home office or provide lodging for “returning children” or elderly family members.

Shared Housing is a fertile area for innovation as government agencies and nonprofit organizations look for affordable solutions to the housing challenge.

Home Sharing programs in many states facilitate two or more unrelated people sharing a home or apartment. Sometimes a home provider is matched with a home seeker who pays rent or shares utility costs. The other common arrangement is a service exchange where a home seeker agrees to provide services in lieu of rent. Home sharing arrangements can address the elder’s need for rental income, companionship, and performance of household chores, such as light cleaning and yard work. Representative state programs can be found in California and Connecticut. An exemplary program in Canada, Abbeyfield Houses Society of Canada, to build new affordable shared housing has been successfully replicated around the world.


The Golden Girls Meet the Ladies of Covington

Women both outnumber and outlive men in American society (though the difference in average life expectancy has narrowed from of 8 years in 1975 to 5½ years in 1995). As a consequence, there is much creative ferment in the search for housing solutions that serve women only.

The popularity of the bestselling novel, The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love, by North Carolina author Joan Medlicott, is one indicator of the intense interest this topic arouses. In the novel, three women entering a new phase in their lives find themselves living in an extended care home. They share a dislike for the home's controlling landlady; so, when one inherits a property in Covington, they pool their resources, renovate the property and move in to build a new life together. The novel has struck such a responsive chord among “women of a certain age” that Medlicott regularly receives calls from across the country asking if there a “how-to” guide to accompany the book. There isn't; it's a work of fiction, after all.

 
 
 

The '80s TV sitcom The Golden Girls offered viewers bad acting and laugh tracks, but it gave Connie Skillingstad a good idea: older women who live together.

 

Other women, however, are working on precisely that. Golden Girl Homes, the brainchild of 59-year-old social worker Connie Skillingstad of Minnesota, helps older widows, divorcees, and otherwise single women find or create alternative, affordable shared housing.

“Golden Girls is about helping open up the options for women,” says Skillingstad. Formed in 2001, the Twin Cities-based nonprofit is based on the premise that older women want, need, and deserve more diverse housing options than senior housing facilities or solitary living. For many women it is not financially feasible to purchase and maintain a house on their own, and single living may leave them feeling lonely and disconnected.

The Golden Girls solution is not so much matching up potential roommates as it is helping with the logistics of shared housing. To this end, the group, which includes about 200 women whose ages range from 40 into the 80s, meets monthly to discuss everything from the legal issues of these new-style households to the practicalities of living with people other than family. They are currently working to create a list of questions that potential roommates can ask each other to gauge their compatibility.

“Those of us who've raised kids and have worked our whole lives get to that point and say, 'Is that all there is?'" says Skillingstad, who hopes Golden Girl Homes ultimately will spread across the country. "There ought to be something more fun.”


 Go to What is Cohousing?

 Go to Elder Cohousing Communities


 
 
 

Further Reading & Useful Links

 

The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love by Joan Medlicott (St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2001)
     

“Granny flats add flexibility and affordability” by (New Urban News, December 2001)
     

“Shared Housing Takes Many Forms” by Polly Nichol, Housing Programs Director of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (, [No Date])
      This excellent overview catalogs innovations in shared housing in Vermont, where — among other benefits — it has also been the vehicle for saving some lovely old buildings throughout the state: the Rochester Inn in Rochester (now Park Place), the Lincoln School in Barre (now Lincoln House), and mansions such as the Noyes House in Putney or Evarts House in Windsor.

“Abbeyfield Houses Society of Canada” by (New Urban News, December 2001)
      Founded over forty years ago, Abbeyfield Houses Society of Canada builds non-profit housing for seniors. Their goal is to provide accommodation and companionship for lonely older people within their own local community. Seven to ten residents live together in each house, like a large “family.” House ownership and care support is undertaken by community volunteers, often with help from service clubs and churches. There are now over 1,100 Abbeyfield Houses around the world with 9,000 residents and 13,000 volunteers, providing an enhanced, extended and healthy lease on life for our elders.


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