The new Golden Girls: baby boomers move in together to save money

Jodi Raffa poses for a portrait at her home in Groveland, Florida this month. She has been looking for a roommate for over a year to help offset the drastic reduction in her household income after the death of her husband. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Octavio Jones

Jodi Raffa has been looking for a roommate for over a year. Her husband died five years ago and his loss was compounded by a 75% reduction in his household income.

The 76-year-old lives in a sunny three-bedroom, two-bathroom home overlooking a lake in a 55+ community in Groveland, Florida. The sunsets from her back porch are ‘stunning’. However, the homeowners association fees went up again and inflation left her “flabbergasted”.

“I live on a very strict budget and can’t afford any extras at all,” said Raffa, who worked in administrative jobs before she and her late husband retired in 2010. Raffa considers now this decision as a “hasty decision”. given his financial situation. “I’m a worrier and a planner, so logic suggested finding a roommate.”


When she pulls out ads specifying women over 55, she mostly gets responses from men in their 60s or adults in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Raffa hopes for an easier way to find and vet potential roommates in his house. “I’m very frustrated,” she said.

Like so many baby boomers, Raffa wants to continue living in his home and find remote work, either in data entry or publishing. Faced with escalating home prices and rents in tight real estate markets, as well as careers or incomes reduced by age or the pandemic, some baby boomers are looking to share their homes. Enter the boommates.

“As baby boomers age, you see more and more shared housing,” said Rodney Harrell, vice president of family, home and community at AARP, noting that babies -boomers are more open than previous generations to trying alternative solutions to traditional aging. path.

In a 1987 interview with NPR, the late Betty White noted that the four women who lived together in “The Golden Girls” did so for social reasons rather than financial necessity. “All I think we’ve accomplished is show that there is an alternative way of life,” White told “Fresh Air” of the show’s success. “If you notice, ‘The Golden Girls’ aren’t together for economic reasons. They’re together for sociological reasons. He fights loneliness.

Four decades later, the idea of ​​roommates until adulthood is enjoying a revival, but with financial factors at the forefront. As baby boomers live longer and retire without the financial safety net of employer pensions, covering rising food, housing and insurance costs becomes a major concern. Linda Hoffman, founder of the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, which runs a home-sharing program, noted an increase in the number of requests as finances increasingly become a stressor.

“When we started the Home Sharing program in 1981, alleviating feelings of isolation and loneliness was the primary need,” Hoffman said. “Now affordable housing is the number one need. Hosts need help with their housing expenses. Even for roommates who entered into the arrangement for social reasons, the extra money has become more important as their financial situation has changed with the pandemic.

Debbi Campbell, 70, a retired editor, met Loretta Halter, a retired manager of the Kroger grocery chain, in 2018 at a Czech cultural event in New York. Campbell was mourning the loss of her living boyfriend of nearly 20 years to cancer. Halter had moved to New York from Appling, Georgia several years earlier. She had used the NYFSC home-sharing program earlier to find an affordable apartment, but was unhappy with her situation, which is when she decided to become roommates with Campbell.

The two went through the NYFSC program to handle background checks, verification and paperwork before Halter moved into Campbell’s rent-stabilized one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village. Before the pandemic, the two lived somewhat separate lives. Campbell lived mostly in the bedroom and Halter lived mostly in the living room. But when the town closed, they developed a strong friendship.

“First we started with crosswords and puzzles, and TV, and it all went well,” Campbell said. The ease of the roommate experience as a friend later in life surprised her. “I mean, I’m one of those people who had a good time in therapy, mostly complaining about people I knew.”

After being initially fired from her long-term acting job with the Department of Education in March 2020, Campbell retired in October 2020, aged 68, more than a year ahead of schedule. She also chose to take Social Security benefits at that time, instead of waiting until age 70 as she had planned.

“I wasn’t in desperate need of money, but in a pandemic you suddenly have company where you wouldn’t have any. And suddenly there’s extra money for you from house sharing that I wouldn’t have had. It was just a godsend. I feel like the luckiest person in the pandemic,” she said.

While the dozen people interviewed for this story insisted their parents would have found the idea bizarre, having roommates later in life seems to be more accepted. In 2021, 70% of adults over 50 said they would be open to sharing their home with a family member who was not a spouse, 51% said they would be willing to share with a friend and 6 % would be willing to share accommodation with a stranger, according to an AARP survey. Of those who said they would not share their accommodation at all, 23% said they would change their minds if they needed the extra income.

“The majority of people who are considering sharing their home with a friend or family member tell me that there is an opportunity there for more people to take advantage of this excess housing stock that we already have in our own homes. , and who may be meeting your needs, and those of a friend or neighbour,” Harrell said. “Or maybe a company that can help with costs, like caregiving. “There’s so many benefits there. And we’re not necessarily taking advantage of it. It’s way off its potential.”

The growing interest in home sharing, especially for baby boomers who are housing rich and cash poor in expensive housing markets, is being cultivated by non-profit and commercial programs as well as municipalities. As of 2015, New York, Seattle, Denver, Tucson, Northern California and the Washington metro area all have or are launching programs.

“From what we’ve seen, attitudes are slackening toward home sharing,” said Riley Gibson, president of Denver-based home-sharing service Silvernest, which matches seniors with roommates. The service is particularly active in tighter housing markets such as San Francisco, Phoenix, Tampa, Miami and Los Angeles. Silvernest recently partnered with Montgomery County in Maryland to launch a pilot program and plans to launch it in a few other cities later this year.

Renters and landlords can fill out profiles on the site, which supports services like lease templates, insurance, and background checks. A similar service, Boston-based Nesterly, matches older adults with younger ones to promote intergenerational home sharing. Senior Homeshares, another service, has nearly 70,000 members across the country since its inception in 2015.

Even before the pandemic, the demographic was shifting towards non-family households. In 1960, 85% of households were made up of families, according to the Population Reference Bureau. By 2017, this figure had fallen to 65% of households.

As Americans continue to age, Harrell and others expect growing demand for more housing options. “As a society, we have built and thought about young families and built homes and communities for young people,” he said.

“But that need has evolved as community leaders, builders and designers” start to “think more and more about what happens to us as we age. And covid has given impetus to those conversations,” Harrell said.

For Kim Bolding, 61, home sharing allowed her to stay at the five-bedroom Colorado Springs home where she raised her biological, adopted and foster children after being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2012.

Bolding, a former social worker, was able to continue working from home until 2017. But after she was forced into a Social Security disability, the payments weren’t enough to meet her housing costs. . “I didn’t want to have to go into an affiliate-type life. I wanted to keep my house,” she said.

First, a longtime neighbor moved downstairs where he could have his own bathroom. With the help of Sunshine Home Share Colorado, a Denver-based nonprofit, Bolding found two more roommates. Since then, she has mainly lived with three other roommates at a time: two men on a floor sharing a bathroom and a woman on her floor. “It allows me to maintain my own individuality. I can say what I want when I set my own needs and rules,” she said.

All roommates are disabled, but collectively able to live independently. Bolding is able to house her adult children when they visit, but they don’t feel pressured to move in with her to manage her illness. Instead, she’s building a new community with her housemates, having regular dinner parties together.

“We run it like a family and we have room for others,” Bolding said. Having roommates is “a great alternative to being stuck in a place where you don’t have much choice: who your neighbors are, who you interact with, or you lose a lot of autonomy and that’s part of the problem of aging, ” she added.

Bolding has previously had several housemates who moved away due to a change in fortune. Two received government subsidized housing, one got married and another inherited a house and cars from a recently deceased uncle. She considers her house a harbinger of good luck and said she has received many calls asking for information or advice on doing something similar.

“It’s becoming more and more popular, especially for my age group for people in similar situations. We need each other. We are blessed and they are blessed,” Bolding said.

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