Se­niors be­com­ing house­mates of­fers a great op­por­tu­nity for com­pan­ion­ship, af­ford­abil­ity

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ETATE - By Ad­ina Solomon

Jane Cal­la­han-Moore was liv­ing with her daugh­ter and grand­daugh­ter in a Chicago sub­urb, but she felt some­thing miss­ing.

“While I loved be­ing with them and see­ing them ev­ery day, I found my­self get­ting in­creas­ingly de­pressed be­cause I didn’t have any con­tact with peo­ple my own age,” said Cal­la­han-Moore, 69.

So, in late 2017, she be­came house­mates with Stefanie Clark, 75, and moved into Clark’s high-rise condo in Edge­wa­ter, a lake­front neigh­bor­hood in Chicago. Now, the pair share space and time. They cook each other meals, go out to­gether and pro­vide sup­port.

Nei­ther owns a car. Edge­wa­ter is a walk­a­ble neigh­bor­hood with rail and bus ac­cess nearby, plus restau­rants and shop­ping.

“I would not have ac­cess to a con­do­minium half as beau­ti­ful or half as beau­ti­fully lo­cated if I didn’t have a room­mate sit­u­a­tion” Cal­la­han-Moore said. “I prob­a­bly would still be liv­ing with my daugh­ter and be­ing very un­happy be­cause I miss my se­nior com­pan­ions.”

Cal­la­han-Moore and Clark are in the mi­nor­ity of peo­ple 65 and older. Al­most 80 per­cent of Americans in that age group live in carde­pen­dent sub­ur­ban and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. As older peo­ple lose the abil­ity to drive, many find them­selves trapped in their homes, un­able to run er­rands or meet with friends. This can lead to so­cial iso­la­tion.

Walk­a­ble ar­eas have a mix of ameni­ties nearby, al­low­ing peo­ple to get around with­out a car. But these ar­eas also tend to be more ex­pen­sive, a fi­nan­cial bur­den for the many peo­ple older than 65 — espe­cially women — who don’t have enough sav­ings to live through re­tire­ment.

One so­lu­tion? Split the costs with a room­mate. Cal­la­han-Moore and Clark are part of the “Golden Girls” trend, named for the 1980s sit­com that fea­tured four older women liv­ing to­gether as house­mates.

“Shared liv­ing in the last decade has ex­ploded, espe­cially in cities where hous­ing costs are quite high,” said Gary Painter, pro­fes­sor in the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Sol Price School of Pub­lic Pol­icy.

The num­ber of peo­ple 65 and older who live as room­mates is small — just un­der 2 per­cent in 2016 — but ris­ing quickly, ac­cord­ing to Har­vard Univer­sity’s Joint Cen­ter for Hous­ing Stud­ies. In the decade lead­ing up to 2016, the older pop­u­la­tion grew 33 per­cent, while the num­ber of older home­shar­ers jumped 88 per­cent.

This prac­tice could al­low more peo­ple to live in walk­a­ble ar­eas that sup­port in­de­pen­dence and men­tal health.

“We have a huge is­sue and prob­lem with elders ag­ing in this coun­try ... not liv­ing as we should,” said Mar­i­anne Kilkenny, founder of Women for Liv­ing in Com­mu­nity, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that brings women to­gether to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties for grow­ing older. “We’re want­ing the so­cial co­he­sion, and know that we need to be con­nected and want to be, but the path isn’t there.”

Driv­ing is the only way to reach ser­vices and so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties in much of the U.S., but older peo­ple are out­liv­ing their abil­ity to drive safely by an av­er­age of seven to 10 years, ac­cord­ing to AAA. This can lead to other­wise healthy adults hav­ing a de­creased ca­pa­bil­ity to en­gage with the out­side world.

Homes that are close to stores, parks and tran­sit can fill this need.

“My co­hort is more in­ter­ested in walk­a­ble, gen­er­ally speak­ing,” Kilkenny said. “It’s like, if needed, I can walk var­i­ous places, so I feel bet­ter about that. The next thing is, then you can meet with friends, which then makes your sphere larger as well.”

Doris Richard­son, 74, has dis­cov­ered this. Richard­son shares a home in Lyons, a moun­tain-sur­rounded town in north­west­ern Colorado, with an­other older woman.

“We baby boomers, I think, are re­defin­ing that whole se­nior thing,” she said.

Richard­son walks to visit restau­rants and neigh­bors, of­ten strolling around the lake out­side her door.

Richard­son said neigh­bors look out for one an­other, bring­ing food when some­one is sick or tak­ing a walk with some­one who needs a men­tal boost. “Ev­ery­body kind of un­der­stands and is on the look­out for peo­ple who might need some help,” she said.

Walk­a­bil­ity to na­ture also helps Richard­son feel pro­duc­tive. When she be­gan shar­ing a home nearly two years ago, she made that a pri­or­ity.

“I’ve just fallen in love with na­ture, in a way, and it feeds you men­tally, emo­tion­ally, spir­i­tu­ally,” Richard­son said. “What I see so many times with se­niors is they just get so in­ward and kind of stay in a cave and they don’t reach out.”

So­cial iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness in se­niors are as­so­ci­ated with in­creased mor­tal­ity, poorer cog­ni­tive per­for­mance and poorer self-re­ported phys­i­cal and men­tal health.

The ur­gency to ad­dress where older peo­ple live and how they can stay so­cially en­gaged will only grow. By 2030, 1 in 5 U.S. res­i­dents will be 65 or over, and older peo­ple are pro­jected to out­num­ber chil­dren for the first time, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus Bureau. Painter said the share of older room­mates will prob­a­bly con­tinue to in­crease.

“We have a hous­ing stock that has a lot of sin­gle-fam­ily homes, and those sin­gle-fam­ily homes of­ten have rooms that are empty,” he said. “When peo­ple are think­ing about ways that they can gen­er­ate more in­come for them­selves, they’re go­ing to start think­ing about those kinds of shared liv­ing ar­range­ments. And then peo­ple who have that need but don’t have the abil­ity to ac­tu­ally pay for an apart­ment on their own are go­ing to start look­ing to those sit­u­a­tions as a way to mit­i­gate their hous­ing cost.”

Ad­ina Solomon is a free­lancer for the Wash­ing­ton Post.


Jane Cal­la­han-Moore, left, moved from her daugh­ter’s house in the sub­urbs into Stephanie Clark’s high-rise condo on Chicago’s lake­front.

Clark and Cal­la­han-Moore fix break­fast in Chicago.

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