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In the search for 'affordable housing', one big resource has been largely overlooked -- now it's catching on...

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Tess Fields spoke online at a Southeast Portland Rotary meeting about the benefits of compatible matching of homeowners with people who need an affordable room to rent. Home Shares mission is to prevent housing instability, foreclosure, and homelessness through home sharing. The lack of affordable housing is on many people's minds these days. Solutions seem to be taking too long to come about; but one nonprofit is dipping back in time to offer a housing option that was once considered a cultural norm.

The idea of having a "roomer" share your house has fallen out of the culture of homeowners in recent decades. It is still common, though, in some American and immigrant cultures, to fill up housing space with family and extended family. Nonetheless, in the entire United States, there are 1.5 million homes with a spare unoccupied bedroom or two.

At a Portland Southeast Rotary online ZOOM meeting on March 21st, Tess Fields – Executive Director of the new nonprofit Home Share Oregon – provided information that could help homeowners with spare rooms find a roomer who will pay an "affordable" rent, such as $600-$750 a month. It also can be a help to homeowners who are mortgage-burdened, o in a life transition, or in need of some additional income and companionship.

"'Home Share' was launched in 2021 because of the national housing crisis, with the average rent now being between $1,500 and $1,700 a month," explained Fields. "In Oregon, the average rent is $1,500 – so people are couch surfing, staying in hotels [sometimes with vouchers], or are on the streets.

"The fastest-growing population is seniors who had no way of predicting that cost of living would become so high. They thought their Social Security would be their safety net. The problem is outpacing solutions."

To make a home sharing arrangement work out smoothly, Home Share has tapped into "Silver Nest", a free online program that functions like a dating app.

This service requires both homeowners and prospective tenants to ask themselves questions, and provide answers, about the qualities and habits they want in a housemate. Then a match is made based on compatibility. "What's really important is to 'think it through' well," said Fields. "We find ourselves having to ask good questions." Silver Nest also provides background checks, at no cost.

A Home Share agreement provides homeowners with insurance, a process to lay out rules, free access to mediation services, and the right to "evict with cause" with 30-day notice in cases where the arrangement doesn't work out. "It is very important for the two parties to have a good conversation on the front end," stressed Fields.

"In 2020 we cut two [Home Share] television commercials, explaining that people are sometimes not comfortable sharing their house, or feel like it is weird. It was literally like a tsunami hit us! We had hundreds and hundreds of calls. Many were seniors, [especially] women – people whose social security had been cut, and were at risk of losing their homes. They were scared to get housemates on their own, and just needed assurance [that there is a safe way to do it]."

Due to the success of the program, Home Share applied for a grant to house Southern Oregon fire victims. They found good matches for 48 people in Lane County and 43 in Jackson County.

Currently, Home Share has a list of 400 homeowners who would like to have someone share their house. But the number of people looking for an affordable Home Share option is currently 1,400. For more information go online – www.homeshareoregon.org

To listen to a 30-minute informative radio recording, with people sharing examples from their home sharing experience, enter this in your computer browser – tinyurl.com/2p8nsvpy


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