For Rent: Senior Citizens Turn To Roommates For Companionship, Cost-Cutting

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Laura Berick, left, a retired art dealer, has lunch with Justine Myers at Berick's home in Judson Manor, in Cleveland, Feb. 17, 2017. (Tony Dejak/AP)
Laura Berick, left, a retired art dealer, has lunch with Justine Myers at Berick's home in Judson Manor, in Cleveland, Feb. 17, 2017. (Tony Dejak/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Real-life “Golden Girls.” Senior citizens getting roommates to ease financial pressures and fight loneliness. It’s a growing trend.


Wendi Burkhardt, co-founder and CEO of Silvernest, an online house-sharing service that pairs Baby Boomers, empty nesters and other aging adults with compatible long-term housemates. (@WendiBurkhardt)

Anne Glass, gerontologist, professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (@uncwchhs). Leading researcher in the field of senior cohousing and elder self-directed intentional communities.

Rodney Harrell, director of livable communities at the AARP Policy Institute. (@DrUrbanPolicy)

Interview Highlights

On house-sharing services for aging adults, and where the idea for Silvernest started

Wendi Burkhardt: "I think, like all great businesses, it really started out of a personal experience and witnessing the members of our family aging and not having as many choices as they might have wanted to age in place. And ultimately losing my father several years ago and having my mother be across the country and living on her own for the very first time in her life, that was really one of the largest inspirations for this.

"We have a platform that allows — I always joke and say in some ways it's like a dating site in the sense that we pair folks based on their compatibility. So it's a platform you can come in, you can list available space in your home, our system has a listing of actually matching folks and pairing them based on compatibility for long-term living arrangement. And then we also plug in a system of tools on the back end to help folks navigate the experience of setting up the living arrangement and then also being able to manage the ongoing life cycle of that relationship. Everything from — background screens are included, to setting up auto-rent payments. We also have mediation services, and folks that can help you answer questions on how to prepare the home, and we also have access to legal counsel for many folks who may have questions about how to best prepare themselves and their home for this type of arrangement."

On who is using these services

WB: "We have had some wonderful stories. The average profile of a homeowner or the individual with this space tends to be a female, generally average age of about 65. We've had folks as old as 101 actually on the platform, which has been super fun. The average of our renter tends to be right around 40, and that is actually split right down the middle between male and female. So we see a lot of interesting pairings, they're not always 'Golden Girls' in their entirety. We do see folks that are pairing with, having intergenerational pairings. About 30 percent of our pairings, are intergenerational in nature. So we really see a wide variety of relationships."

"If you're in a home and it doesn't quite work for you, bringing in a roommate can help with some of those chores, some of those costs and maybe some of the social isolation as well."

Rodney Harrell

On co-housing

Anne Glass: "There are a lot of misconceptions, I think, out there. People get the idea of shared housing and co-housing mixed up, and to me, they are quite different. Shared housing is, what Wendi was talking about, when you share an actual house, you have a room in somebody's house, whereas co-housing is a whole community or neighborhood, or you'd think of perhaps there'd be 25 units and each person or couple would have their own home, but they're built in a neighborhood around a common space. And there's typically a common house that they come together, perhaps a couple times a week, to have shared meals or things like that.

"It's nothing like assisted living, no. Because assisted living is where you move in when you start need to a little bit of help with your activities of daily living, so it's between independent living and the nursing home level. Co-housing is, you'd move in when you're completely independent, typically. You would hope to be able to age in place and stay there until you die. And you could do that with the help of home care aid, perhaps, or even hospice coming in at the end. But you would also have the support of your neighbors of your co-housing neighborhood, which would help a lot."

On our infrastructure and homes, and whether they're equipped for an older population

Rodney Harrell: "Our homes and communities aren't really designed for aging. And you think about 200-plus years of development in the country, and we always had the assumption that there weren't that many people over 65. Well, sometime in the decade of the 2030s, we're going to have more people over 65 than under 18 for the first time ever. And what that means is that these years of building communities and housing a certain way doesn't necessarily fit our new reality and our growing and changing reality. We talked about some of the roommates that might help with some of those stores. Maybe they're getting groceries, and those kind of things. Well, in part, that's because our transportation systems in our neighborhoods, suburban neighborhoods especially, aren't necessarily set up for people to get around if they're not driving. And yes, we have home designs that assume that you can get up a great deal of stairs, and that can be an issue. And of course the cost that we talked about. So it's really a holistic change that we need to make more age-friendly, livable communities so we can have the access people need. And in the meantime, if you're in a home and it doesn't quite work for you, bringing in a roommate can help with some of those chores, some of those costs and maybe some of the social isolation as well."

From The Reading List

USA Today: "More renters over age 50 turning to 'Golden Girls' trend" — "After ending a romantic relationship in her 60s, Rika Mead lived alone for several years in a spacious contemporary home in Highlands Ranch, Colo. She enjoyed her privacy, but when she saw an article about a home-share matching service for older women, she decided to give it a try. 'I wanted help financially, but I also wanted companionship,' says Mead, who now rents the top floor of her house to a 57-year-old woman she met on

"The women are among a growing number of baby boomers who have become roommates in their later years. Dubbed the Golden Girls or the Grace and Frankie generation because of their similarities to the storylines of those TV shows, these women are living together mostly for economic reasons — but also for connection.

"Studies show that most people want to stay in their homes or communities as they age. But an increasing number of those 65 and older still have mortgages to pay."

Boston Globe: "Empty-nester + young adult = perfect roommates?" — "After living with more than a dozen different roommates in his young life, most of them strangers, Dean Kaplan is well-versed in the particulars of those first meetings — the short introductions, the perfunctory pleasantries, and then the quick getting on with life.

"'After you move enough times,' said the 25-year-old Baltimore native, there is 'definitely a high degree of nonchalance.'

"In late August, though, as he stood on the front porch of a sizable multistory house in Cambridge ready to meet his newest roommate, he found himself uncharacteristically nervous and eager to make a good first impression.

"Of all the roommates he’d had in the previous few years, Sarah Heintz would be the first septuagenarian.

"In fact, Kaplan, a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and Heintz, a 77-year-old whose grown daughter now lives across town, are part of an experiment in connecting young people in need of cheap rent with older residents who wouldn’t mind a little extra companionship and an occasional hand around the house."

New York Times: "Getting a Roommate in Your Golden Years" — "The concept of pairing older people with younger ones, particularly those who are not family members, is not a new one: It was popularized by Maggie Kuhn, an elder-rights activist who opened up her Philadelphia home to others for more than 20 years before she died in 1995. Today’s home sharing, however, is as likely to be between those of the same age as it is to be intergenerational. The crucial thing is that it involves two or more people sharing an apartment or a house to their mutual benefit. And finances often play a big role.

"For those who are still working age, it’s getting harder to pay the rent: According to a StreetEasy survey, rents in the city rose twice as fast as wages between 2010 and 2017. The lowest rents (those up to $2,300) rose 4.9 percent annually since 2010, which means someone who paid $1,500 a month in 2010 likely paid nearly $600 more for the same place in 2017."

This article was originally published on November 06, 2018.

This program aired on November 6, 2018.


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