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Sharing space – Oregon nonprofit offers new solution to housing crisis

By Melissa Wagoner

When Emily and Elijah Neves got engaged and began searching for a place to live in their hometown of Silverton, the prospects looked pretty grim. 

“We both really love this community,” Emily began. “So, we were looking everywhere but it was a month before we got married and I was freaking out because I didn’t want to live with my parents as newlyweds.”

Then a chance meeting at a birthday party offered the couple a possible solution – shared housing. They discovered, by moving in with another family – John and Kate Pattison, as well as their daughters, Julia and Molly – they could cut costs on, not only housing, but utilities, groceries, maintenance repairs and even childcare down the road.

The Neves and Pattisons choosing a Christmas tree for their shared home.
The Neves and Pattisons choosing a Christmas tree for their shared home.

“It’s not for everyone, but it’s for more people than realize it,” John Pattison – an advocate for cohousing personally as well as in his work as Community Builder for the nonprofit, Strong Towns – said.

It turns out, he may be right – at least according to Tess Fields, Executive Director for Home Share Oregon, a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce the impact of the housing crisis in Oregon by incentivizing the renting of spare bedrooms that would otherwise go unused. 

“[L]ooking at the Oregon census, there are 1.5 million homes across Oregon with a spare bedroom,” Fields said. “With that number we could house 30,000 people affordably.”

And affordability is the key, because, while the average cost of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the state of Oregon currently stands at between $1,200 and $1,900, that number is projected to rise to a whopping $2,000 a month by 2023. While at the same time, the average Home Share agreement is generally locked in around $735 a month, with some flexibility based around shared chores and maintenance duties, a far more realistic sum for students, seniors or couples – like the Neves – who are just starting out.

And it’s not just the renters who benefit, homeowners gain as well. 

“There are 45,000 Oregonians at risk of foreclosure because of the pandemic,” Fields said. “They could be mortgage-burdened… house rich and cash poor. They’re sacrificing good health care, good food and clothing because all of their money is going to ensure they’re housed.”

And right now, there’s very little in the way of governmental assistance. 

“You have to be homeless and destitute before you get any help,” Fields said. “From our perspective it’s almost like people are being pushed into homelessness before they can access the care they deserve.”

This is especially true for retired seniors. 

“The number of seniors out there who are house-rich and cash-poor is absolutely astounding to me,” Fields said. “Many are women who have outlived their husbands… They’re stay-at-home moms who raised their children or they had part time jobs. They’ve been married and then their husband dies and then all of a sudden, they’re 70… It’s very frightening to listen to them because they haven’t been out in the rental market or the housing market for 25 years and what they don’t understand is that they’re living in the cheapest place they could possibly live.”

The situation applies to homeowners but also to renters as well.

“They’ve been living in the same apartment paying $700 and then someone buys the apartment complex and raises the rent,” Fields said of a scenario that is becoming increasingly common. “It’s difficult to get these phone calls and hear these stories because they have worked their entire lives, contributed and done everything right and yet they’re at risk of becoming homeless.”

But there is a possible solution and it’s the reason Fields created Home Share Oregon, where seniors – or anyone looking to share a living space – have access to compatibility screening, background checks and even rental agreements at no cost. 

“Our primary focus is preventing homelessness before it starts by increasing access for home owners and housemates,” Fields said. “We’re focused on giving them the tools they need so they can feel good about it.”

Because the number one reason home sharing isn’t already a popular solution to the housing crisis is fear.

“When we’re right out of college we all look for a place to rent and no one ever questions, is it safe?” Fields said. Speculating that the shift has more to do with a change in the cultural expectations as we age than any real change in safety.

“[I]t’s not the cultural norm,” Fields confirmed. “When you’re young you’re supposed to have a lot of housemates but, for whatever reason, when we partner up, get married and buy a house that cultural expectation does a 180.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, Fields would argue that, in order to begin solving the current housing crisis, such thinking will have to change.

“Home sharing has got to be a part of the tool in the toolbox,” she stated. “It’s got to be part of the options. We’ve got to start addressing and attacking this cultural norm.”

“I think it’s worth exploring,” Kate Pattison echoed. “Because there are different ways of doing it.”

Meaning, not every shared housing agreement needs to include as much sharing as the Pattison-Neves agreement does. 

“We co-own the house and the loan and we’ve set up our wills to point to the other family,” Kate said, recognizing that, while this has worked well for her family, for many others sharing expenses is all they require.

“The most important thing is being crystal clear about expectations and continuing to talk,” Kate said. 

“It comes down to compatibility and direct communication,” Fields agreed. “It’s about building community…and if you take your time and you’re smart, at the end of the day there’s someone for everybody.”

Home Share Oregon

Offering compatibility screening, background checks and rental agreement services to homeowners interested in leasing out a portion of their home and renters looking for an alternative to the traditional, high-cost rental.
www.homeshareoregon.org 

Offering no cost:

• Rental listing
• Roommate matching
• Background screening
• Lease generation
• Payment processing

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