Unexpected Roommates: The Intergenerational Housing Trend

Teen and elderly woman sharing earpods.Classic television is home to its share of unique roommate situations. There’s Felix and Oscar (the original odd couple); Mork & Mindy (a human and an alien); Jack, Janet, and Chrissy from Three’s Company; and the venerated “Golden Girls” (who were clearly ahead of their time). 

In today’s real world, the home-sharing trend is creating a whole new category of cohabitation: intergenerational roommates. 

Across the country, retirees are opening their homes to young people, offering relatively inexpensive housing in exchange for light housework, help with errands, and even just company. 

The arrangement is an easy win-win for both parties.

Homeowners who may be facing financial challenges or isolation (or both) reap the monetary benefits of taking on a roommate and the emotional and social benefits of having another person around the house.

Young people—many of them undergrad and grad students who have already amassed substantial college debt—gain a nice, homey place to live with a price tag that isn’t beyond their means. 

In a segment on the topic, the TODAY Show noted that there are 54 million spare bedrooms sitting empty across the country. And experts predict that by 2035, almost one-third of all households will be headed by someone 65 or older. Based on figures from 2020, about 27% (14.7 million) of all older adults living in the community live alone (5 million men, 9.7 million women). 

On the other side of the equation, young people are facing astronomical housing costs, especially in major urban areas. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, rent is increasing at the fastest rate in three decades!

These numbers all add up to a substantial opportunity for older folks and younger folks who might want to take advantage of a non-traditional living situation. 

Who is embracing the intergenerational roommate solution?

A wide range of people have found that being an intergenerational roomie is the perfect solution to their housing needs. 

  • The Today Show piece included an interview with Boston grad student, Jillian,  and her new roommate, Bonnie, who is 49 years her senior. 
  • A recent piece in The Washington Post profiled several roommate pairs including 25-year-old Nadia Abdullah, a recent Tufts University grad, and 64-year-old Judith Allonby, who was considering whether she should move out of her long-time home even though she really loved her neighborhood. 
  • A New York Times piece on the topic also provided a glimpse into the living arrangements of several different intergenerational households, including Shari Felstein, a 73-year-old retiree who lost about $80,000 of her retirement savings due to investment fraud, and Yukuari Honda, a 27-year-old graduate student in interior design at the New School. 

In each of these cases, both roommates expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the arrangement. The homeowners were happy to be able to stay in their homes, alleviate strain on their finances, and have a younger person around to help with certain tasks and errands that might have otherwise been difficult to manage. The young folks were grateful to have a nice place to live at a price they could afford. 

AdobeStock_66802220-300x184Just as important as the financial and logistical benefits of home sharing, all the people interviewed were quick to point out how much they enjoy their roomie’s company. Both generations felt that they were learning valuable things from their roommates. And more than one of the people interviewed felt that they had found a friend for life. 

These “soft” benefits can actually make a big difference in quality of life and overall health, especially for the older people in these arrangements. For instance, a massive study that followed 12,000 participants over a 10-year period found that loneliness increases the chance of dementia by 40 percent. Other studies have shown that for the majority (nearly 60 percent) of home providers 55 years and older, sharing their home gave them an increased sense of wellbeing resulting from “companionship/reduced loneliness/better quality of life.”

Could home sharing with an intergenerational roommate be right for you or someone you love?

There are undeniable benefits for everyone involved in a successful intergenerational home sharing arrangement, but it’s not something to be entered into lightly. The person opening their home needs to be honest and clear about their needs and preferences about everything from personal space to bedtime to refrigerator etiquette. It can be difficult to live with someone, especially if you’ve become used to living alone. 

There’s also the challenge of finding the right match. Most experts agree that it’s wisest to use a professional home-sharing service. These agencies provide very thorough vetting for both the homeowner and the renter, helping to ensure safety as well as compatibility. 

There are a number of such agencies opening up all across the country:

  • You can find a helpful directory at the National Shared Housing Resource Center.
  • Providers often focus on specific parts of the country. One of the pioneers in the space, Nesterly, currently focuses on the Boston area, Ohio, and Kentucky.
  • Another provider, Silvernest, covers a broader area, including parts of Connecticut.
  • Ct.gov, Connecticut’s official state website, recommends that people interested in researching local home sharing opportunities contact their local Area Agency on Aging for more information and referral.

There are an increasing number of resources available for people — young and old — who would like to explore this mutually beneficial approach to housing. And if the current trends are any indication, we will only see more of these kinds of arrangements in the future, which bodes well for a lot of people who might otherwise find themselves in dire straits. 

Related Posts:

Home Suite Home: Things to Consider Before Building an In-law Suite

How to Set Up a Successful Multigenerational Household

Making the Right Move: Understanding the 6 Senior Living Options

Thinking of Moving in With Your Child? 9 Questions to Ask

Your Kids Moved Back Home? 5 Tips for Addressing Finances

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