While impassioned people worry about homeless individuals in Cambria, countywide and nationally, holding intense meetings to brainstorm about ways to help them and keep everybody safe, there’s another group of people who need housing they cannot find or afford.
And that’s where home sharing comes into play.
What is HomeShare? It’s a sophisticated, well-researched adult-housemates program. HomeShareSLO serves isolated residents who want companionship or extra monthly income, and helps connect them with others who need affordable housing.
North Coast residents can learn more soon: HomeShareSLO and local enthusiasts plan to host an informational workshop in Cambria in November.
The service matches potential housemates by reviewing home-seekers’ applications for ability to pay rent and considering home-sharing compatibility between the participants.
HomeShareSLO conducts criminal background checks of applicants. It also reviews criteria that include whether participants have pets, smoke, and prefer more privacy or companionship.
While some matches may pair seniors with seniors, there’s a wide assortment of possibilities. Some matches place younger tenants with seniors, or retirees with working people, or a couple with a single. Perhaps a single mom might want to pair with someone in the same situation, or a student, or a senior.
Home-seekers pay a $100 application fee. Home providers pay the organization the first month’s rent as a program fee.
“We hope to help serve a growing housing need. We’ve seen the model work in more than 60 organizations nationwide, but nothing like this was in place in SLO County,” said Anne Wyatt, HomeShareSLO program coordinator and a longtime advocate for housing solutions.
She spoke at length about the program in Cambria at the North Coast Advisory Council’s April 27 meeting.
I think HomeShare is a great program. I think it will work particularly well in Cambria, as we have a substantial senior population, many living alone in houses that could easily accommodate another person.
Bruce Gibson, District 2 supervisor
Under the program, housing is often rented at a below-market rate, on a month-to-month basis, typically ranging from $575 to $800 per month countywide. Often, comparable county rentals are $800 to $1,000 per month, and higher for studios and one-bedrooms, especially in coastal communities, coordinators say.
The program currently serves 12 people in six households but aims to boost that number to 200 people in 100 households within a few years. The program already has 50 clients signed up, Wyatt said.
“We know the program isn’t for everybody,” she said, “but if 5 percent of the county’s more than 200,000 residents are in a position to consider the home-sharing concept, it could help approximately 15,000 people.”
HomeShareSLO, established in 2016, began taking clients this year. There are eight advisory board members and three staff members — Wyatt; operations director Celeste Goyer and Stephanie Teaford, outreach coordinator.
Wyatt knows Cambria well, as a former resident, founder and longtime operator of the Bridge Street Inn hostel, county planning commissioner and chairwoman of the North Coast Advisory Council.
She said the program, which provides residential solutions without having to build any new housing, has social-connection, financial, environmental and other benefits.
Supervisor Bruce Gibson is enthusiastic. “I think HomeShare is a great program,” he said in a Sept. 1 email interview. “I think it will work particularly well in Cambria, as we have a substantial senior population, many living alone in houses that could easily accommodate another person. We also don’t have much in the way of senior services in town.”
He said, “It may take folks some time to get comfortable with the idea, but I think in coming years more and more people will see the benefits – yes, a more affordable place to live, but also the social connections that are so important.”
“HomeShare provides the important services of matching,” Gibson added, “but also stays engaged to be sure that the match is working out and provides dispute resolution.”
An unmet need
Wyatt said 2010 census statistics show that about 11,000 single seniors live in the county, including about 7,700 women. She said about 2,000 of them are “over housed,” meaning they have at least one extra bedroom.
She said that statistic included 830 “householders living alone in Cambria,” and that 432 of those were age 65 and older.
Most seniors take in between around $1,000 to $1,500 per month in Social Security income, which can make for tight budgets without a supplemental income that many seniors don’t have.
Goyer said the program provides the comfort of helping people find safe, suitable matches. HomeShareSLO coordinators have visited senior centers across the county to spread the word.
The service fills a definite gap and helps allay some fears about the unknown.
“Less than half of our clients have ever shared a home with a nonfamily member,” Goyer said. “Many aren’t online. They can’t go to Craigslist and list a room. So what we do is help them find appropriate housemates.”
Nick Wilson contributed to this story.
To learn more
For more information about the program, go to homeshareslo.org or call 805-215-5474.