City Looking to Significantly Expand Intergenerational Home-Share in 2020

After a successful, but small, pilot program in 2017, the City has kicked off an effort to significantly expand the intergenerational home-sharing program that pairs mostly graduate students with over-housed older adults throughout the city.

Earlier this month, a consortium of City agencies led by the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab kicked off a new phase of the program, which follows a competitive Request for Proposals process that has just concluded. That process ended up choosing the Nesterly company, which was the company that also ran the 2017 pilot.

“We have had significant interest in expanding the program,” said Taylor Cain, assistant director of the Housing Lab. “Our goal is to have 100 household matches in 2020. We had eight successful matches in the 2017 pilot, and Nesterly just won a competitive bid to run the expansion. We were really looking for someone to help us conduct the program. We wanted to make sure we could keep the host safe, and also match up the renter successfully, and that both would understand what it is to share a home with someone. We needed a vendor with the experience and we felt Nesterly provided that…Right now, we are making an even greater commitment to Intergenerational Home sharing in Boston.”

The program came about via Noelle Marcus, founder of Nesterly, who saw the difficulties of graduate student housing options in Boston when she was at MIT. At the same time, she found that there were thousands of unoccupied rooms in Boston, and many of them were in the homes of older adults – particularly Baby Boomers whose families had shrunk as kids and extended family left the household.

At the kick-off, Cain and Marcus shared that 38 percent of Boston’s older adults live alone. Also, 64 percent of homeowners are age 65 and over, and many have space in their homes.

“It’s a great program for people who have a home big enough to raise kids and then the kids aren’t there anymore,” she said. “We estimate there are about 38,000 spare rooms right now in Boston. That is an incredible number. If we look at our housing needs, we think about the what those rooms could do to ease the housing burden we experience here. At the core, though, Intergenerational housing is really about the people and the experience they have together.”

Emily Shea, commissioner of the Age Strong Commission, said they have found there are great benefits to the health and well-being of older adults when they host students in such a situation.

“We know that as many as 90 percent of older adults want to stay in their house and their community as they age,” she said. “Older residents, though, can experience barriers to that as their needs change. It could be paying property taxes, shoveling snow in the winter, homeowners insurance or even maintenance and repairs. It takes a lot to maintain a house. Social isolation is a factor also when you’re living by yourself and not being connected to other people. Some seniors have a tremendous cost burden on housing, spending more than 30 percent on housing. Home Share can alleviate some of these challenges.”

Marcus, of Nesterly, said the program is very cutting edge, and could be one major piece of the solution to getting more units on the market for families and working adults.

“This is incredibly innovative,” she said. “There is no other city that has done anything like this in the country.”

Marcus indicated that Nesterly can help those volunteering for home share to be matched up with the right student. That is done through extensive interviews, and also home visits to make sure the space is right. They also help with the agreement between the two, noting that payments (which average around $750 per month) aren’t the only way to structure an agreement. In addition to payments, hosts can require things like snow shoveling, taking out the trash, or even cooking. It can get quite creative, she said.

During the pilot program in 2017, Charlestown was one of several neighborhoods identified as an area with great potential for the program – particularly for seniors who have lived in the Town for some time and have empty rooms. Plus, with the Town being so close to many of the universities in Cambridge and downtown Boston, most students would find the neighborhood an easy commute to and from school.

Badis Bousseta, of Suffolk University’s Office of Campus Housing, said Suffolk and other institutions see home share as a very viable solution for their graduate students. His job, he said, is to find housing for Suffolk students, and this might be another tool to get that job done.

“I just didn’t know there were so many empty rooms in Boston and so many people living alone,” he said. “It makes sense because children grow up and move out, and you’re still left with a big house. Boston is a student city so this would probably be a good idea here. It is harder for students here to find housing. It’s Boston. A lot of students are here and there aren’t many options. The prices are higher in Boston, so people need choices.”

The City and Nesterly are currently looking for potential volunteers throughout the city that might be interested can find out more information on how to host or rent at www.nesterly.io, or by calling (781) 205-9607.

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