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Look into our local homesharing options

They need expansion and more support, but this is what PA residents and Philadelphia citizens have to work with:

SHARE – Shared Housing and Resource Exchange through the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.

Domiciliary Care Program through the PCA.


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Ideas We Should Steal: Homesharing

Across the state and country, programs are connecting those in need of companionship and income with those who need affordable housing. Why is Philly’s version struggling?

Ideas We Should Steal: Homesharing

Across the state and country, programs are connecting those in need of companionship and income with those who need affordable housing. Why is Philly’s version struggling?

After a fire damaged part of her home, Red Hill resident Janet Porter didn’t know where she would live. She wanted to repair her house, but her soon-to-be ex-husband wanted to sell it.

At 78 years old, Porter has lived in Montgomery County her entire life. She didn’t want to leave the area, but she also wasn’t sure she could afford to stay. The repairs were costly, and she was on her own to pay for them.

It’s a problem familiar to many seniors. The poverty rate among the elderly in Pennsylvania has increased to 9.6 percent, as housing and rental costs are on the rise, making it difficult for some seniors to remain in their communities. Even those seniors who own their homes often struggle to afford repairs, as Porter did, or to pay for updates needed to help their house fit their health needs.

But thanks to a state program that matches willing homeowners with renters in need of affordable housing — one of several across the country that tries to tackle the affordable housing crisis by allowing homeowners to rent out bedrooms in their home at a reasonable rate — Porter found a way to stay in her home.

She conducted repairs and, in January, opened her home to another Montgomery County woman, Sherry Woodside, who had encountered her own struggles to find an affordable place to live nearby. Woodside had been told the waitlist for the Montgomery County Housing Authority was five years long. Woodside moved in and now pays modest rent that helps to subsidize the house’s upkeep and assists with household tasks. What’s more, the two women enjoy each other’s company.

“For anyone looking for companionship or a place to live, the homeshare program is the greatest one that I’ve seen,” Woodside says.

Yet even as counties in Pennsylvania and other cities and states increasingly look to homesharing programs as a tool to help combat the affordable housing crisis, Philly has struggled to get its own program off the ground.

Meet Pennsylvania’s homesharing program

Porter and Woodside were matched through the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s (PDA) SHARE program, which started in 2017 when Pike County’s aging agency approached the state with an interest in starting a homeshare program. PDA conducted a survey of Pike and two neighboring counties, Monroe and Wayne, to assess housing needs in the region and determine if a program could work.

They found that there was a critical lack of affordable housing for older adults, says Patricia Clark, housing and community services division chief for PDA. The survey also found that a number of homeowners in the area had ample room for a potential renter.

In creating SHARE, the department looked to other states’ programs, including HomeShare Vermont, to design something that could be operated by local aging agencies in each county. Each of the SHARE chapters in Pennsylvania has local counselors assigned to facilitate the program and ensure matches are going smoothly, with the PDA providing the training for the counselors so they’re prepared to administer the programs.

“By having a roommate … [there’s] someone who can perhaps help them with the chores that are getting difficult. It’s someone to have a meal with. It’s someone to watch a movie with, maybe play a board game.” Shannon Walsh, Bucks’ SHARE counselor.

Because the program is overseen by the Department of Aging, either the homeowner or the renter must be over 60. SHARE tenants never pay more than 30 percent of their gross income in rent.

Participants go through background checks and an extensive matching process that takes into account living habits, interests and other factors. There’s also a trial period of three to seven days to make sure participants are compatible.

Shalawn James, director of homesharing for the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore, MD, which houses a long-running home share program, likened the matching systems to the process of the Golden Girls finding each other and deciding to live together. St. Ambrose’s process is similar to SHARE’s. “We do not match just anybody,” James says. “The match is solely built off of a relationship with both parties [who have] agreed that they want to live together.”

And just like in Golden Girls, it’s possible a match might run into disagreements. SHARE counselors check in every month by phone and every three months in-person for the first year. After that, they check in via phone every three months and every year with a home visit.

In 2019, the Pennsylvania program expanded beyond Pike, Monroe and Wayne, and is now in 13 counties — but not Philadelphia. So far, 225 people have participated in the program.

“It allows older adults to age in their homes and their communities,” Clark says. “We definitely think it’s been extremely successful.”

Five decades of success in Baltimore

Pennsylvania’s SHARE program is relatively new, though the idea of homesharing is not. St. Ambrose has run its homesharing program for more than 50 years, during which time it has matched more than 1,800 people. Their longest match has lasted 25 years.

The initiative started in response to a familiar need: People in Baltimore were struggling to stay in their homes and others were scrambling to find affordable housing, even as the city sold $1 homes to homesteaders in the 1970s. “To be able to live affordably, especially when you don’t have livable wages, became a struggle for people,” James says.

Unlike SHARE, St. Ambrose’s homesharing program isn’t age-restricted, though they’ve noticed in recent years that elderly residents are becoming more interested in the program as they struggle to stay in their homes.

To match clients, home providers and seekers complete an initial application online before St. Ambrose reaches out to prospective home providers and completes an inspection to make sure the house is safe. Both home providers and seekers have to pass a background check, and rent starts at $500 per month.

Demand for homesharing programs is strong, and James has seen increased interest in St. Ambrose’s services from young residents and formerly incarcerated people. Seven years ago, the organization launched a version of the program targeted at people ages 18 to 24. This year, they’re piloting one for justice-involved individuals. They hope to create a program for veterans in the near future.

“We are constantly looking for opportunities and ways that we can serve those that are finding themselves housing insecure,” James says.

In PA, part of the challenge of growing SHARE is a relative lack of home providers. In Bucks County, which launched SHARE a little over a year ago, there are currently about 150 people seeking homes and just 13 prospective home providers. “There’s a big disparity there,” says Shannon Walsh, Bucks’ SHARE counselor. Bucks has made six matches so far, including finding homes for veterans and people with disabilities.

“We’re helping people who really, really struggle to find safe housing in this economy,” Walsh says.

One way to increase those numbers is by helping home providers understand the benefits of participating. SHARE home providers receive rent from tenants and help around the home — the living agreements might outline different chores that seekers will take on, like yard work or dishes — that some elderly residents struggle with.

Other participants appreciate the companionship the program offers. Many seniors struggle with loneliness, which can lead to other health issues. They may have children who have moved far from home, or spouses who are gone.

“By having a roommate … [there’s] someone who can perhaps help them with the chores that are getting difficult,” says Walsh. “It’s someone to have a meal with. It’s someone to watch a movie with, maybe play a board game.”

“It allows older adults to age in their homes and their communities. We definitely think it’s been extremely successful.” — Patricia Clark, housing and community services division chief for PDA

Why not Philly?

Like Baltimore, Philly has a successful, long-running homeshare program, though it’s targeted toward helping disabled people rather than addressing the housing crisis as a whole. Run by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) and known as Domiciliary Care, the program matches certified home providers with people who have physical or mental disabilities who need partial care.

“For some people this really becomes a long-term home and a family,” says Jean Janik, PCA’s director of community living options.

PCA has tried to expand its homesharing opportunities a few times over the last few years. In 2022, they reached an agreement with the Department of Aging to start a SHARE program in the county, but issues with Philly’s landlord/tenant laws prevented it from getting up and running. (PCA did not specify which laws caused issues, but they reiterated their commitment to working with the City and the state to address affordable housing needs for seniors.) PDA said they hope to continue working with PCA to try to get SHARE in the city.

In January, PCA announced a collaboration with the homesharing subscription service Silvernest, which would connect potential tenants with homeowners looking to rent out rooms. But the collaboration, called Housemates of Philadelphia County, is currently on hold due to technical issues. When asked, PCA would not elaborate on what those issues were or when they might be resolved.

At the same time, Domiciliary Care has struggled over the past few years. The program stopped taking new residents during Covid-19, and there are now 96 residents and 98 home providers, compared to roughly twice that prior to the pandemic. Part of the problem is that home providers are retiring from the program and residents want to stay for longer periods of time due to high housing costs. Right now, the program mostly gets referrals via word-of-mouth, though PCA is working with the state Department of Aging to increase marketing efforts and bring in new homeowners.

For those who have managed to find a match, such programs have been a blessing. Porter and Woodside met one morning at 11 am for their initial meeting and by 11:30 Woodside knew, “I wasn’t leaving.”

The pair have become close friends and often play cards and other games together. Porter cooks dinner based on what they both want and Woodside does the dishes. When Porter had to spend some time in the hospital for health issues, Woodside took care of her dog and kept the house in order.

“I’ve been enjoying being able to cook again and make food,” Porter says. “It’s no fun to cook for yourself.”

Correction: A previous version of this post misidentified Shalawn James’ title.


Photo courtesy of SHARE, PA's homesharing program.

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