Arnie calls her home “my accordion house” and laughs.
It’s a huge Victorian building in the center of Concord, New Hampshire. Arnie inherited it from an aunt who lived on the second floor until her death. When her husband died at an early age, she was suddenly a widow of very limited means.
Committed to keeping the home she loves, she got creative, renting every single bit of it in a number of innovative ways. She loves living with home-mates.
Arnie rents the second floor with its four bedrooms to law students. They have a kitchenette and bathroom. On the ground floor a former drawing room has been converted to an Airbnb. She rents the living room and kitchen for functions. She even rents a wall in the second floor living room to labor organizers who have a desk, printer and bulletin board. They use it one day a week.
Maybe you made some of the same career choices Arnie did. She followed her passion and has a long career in public service (ran for governor twice) and in radio. Currently, she hosts a progressive political talk on public radio, The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen.
While not lucrative, her choices gave her a life she loves. The challenge is to make the finances work, especially in retirement.
Not everybody has a Victorian mansion, but many single empty-nesters have extra room. And like Arnie, many could benefit from the added income home-sharing can provide.
Income from house sharing can make a significant difference, especially for single women who are finding that their retirement income is limited. Currently in the United States, 45 percent of single retirees are 90 percent dependent on Social Security.
According to the Social Security Report, Fast Facts and Figures, in 2014 the average Social Security payment for a woman was $1134 a month. Men are slightly higher, at $1451. That’s average. Many make do with much less.
My website is full of stories about people, mostly women, who share housing. Arnie’s solution turns what could be a burden (owning a large home) into a resource. Nancy spent her life in social work and dedication to nonviolence. Living in shared housing allows her to live in the middle of town where she can walk to all her activities. It’s the retirement she dreamed of.
Many retirees started sharing to have some additional income. For instance, there is a special education teacher who rents to medical residents and saves the income to tide her over during the summer months. Or another who found herself deeply in debt and began renting a room in her condo as a way to climb out of that hole. There’s Amy, a librarian who wanted to not feel so stressed.
What is astonishing to realize is that if you have an additional five hundred dollars a month, that’s six thousand dollars a year. That’s not chump change.
The money part is why many turn to shared housing. They stay for the companionship, the help, and the comfort. Sharing housing is just good common sense. We human beings have been banding together and helping each other out since the beginning of time.
Humans thrive in community. We’re wired to have constant (yes, really!) human connection. Of course we need some privacy. We can have both when we share housing.
Of course, successful house sharing takes work. It is a process to find compatible partners. It takes care, clarity about who you are and what you need, and honesty. Creating a safe home with others doesn’t happen overnight. But it is completely doable. There are lots of nice people in the world.
If you are single and living in straitened circumstances, please consider how your life would improve if you were to have a home-mate (or two!). If you are currently living with others, like a partner or family members, help the single people you know by talking about this idea. It’s a sensible, smart solution to a real issue affecting millions of people.
Here’s how you might start: Play with the idea, imagine yourself in various situations. Talk to your friends about it. Look around your current home. How could you make space for others?
Read the stories about real people sharing housing on our website. Read “Sharing Housing, a Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates.”
Have you considered sharing housing? Are you doing it? If you’ve thought of it and not done it, what has gotten in the way? Have you ever shared housing? What was that like? What questions do you have about it? Please join the conversation in the comments.