Services match metro Aurora seniors with spare room and those looking for more than a home

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Marty Holmes worried about how long he could live by himself on Social Security, and almost 70, had a lot problems solved when he moved in with his roommate last January. That’s Sally. She’s in her 80s.

“This is the happiest I have been in a long time,” Marty said.

Marty is one of a growing number of aging Americans that are turning to “home sharing” as way to stay out of assisted living or nursing homes. By working with Alison Joucovsky, who runs Sunshine Home Share, he was able to do what more seniors than ever are looking for: save money and make new friends.

Sunshine is one of many types of services that help connect platonic roommates, sometimes of similar ages, sometimes generations apart. The services have gained national recognition for helping seniors share their homes with college students and other young people, trading free or discounted rent for chores or just companionship.

About a year ago, Holmes was looking for a way save on living expenses and came across a tiny newspaper ad for Sunshine.

“This economy feels like it’s pulling the rug out from everybody,” he said. “I don’t mind living with other people as long as I can live within my Social Security.”

Affordable housing is scarce, especially all types of subsidized housing, housing officials say.

“Right now the waiting list is closed, they couldn’t get on it,” said Aurora Housing Authority Director Craig Maraschky. “It’s a tough market, it seems like it’s getting tougher not easier.”

Holmes gave it a try. He was soon matched with Arvada resident Sally Collins. Sally has lived in her home since 1972, when her late husband built it. She’s needed someone to help her with expenses and help with chores around the house. Holmes fit the profile.

“The house is paid for and there is no place I can live inexpensively,” Sally said.

Through the program, Marty and Sally worked out a lease and a living arrangement contract. The contracts vary among individual matches, Alison said. In their case, Marty pays Sally “much less” than the $750 he was paying for a one bedroom apartment. He also mows the lawn and watches her dog occasionally.

Despite being more than 10 years his senior, Marty said it’s Sally that has converted him from a self-proclaimed couch potato to being a busy guy. She said she even encouraged him to start an arthritis workout class at the local recreation center.

“She’s my inspiration because she is always on the go,” Marty said. “She gets me going and gives me the challenges I should be getting.”

In their case, the sum of their new living arrangements are much more than when they lived apart.

Sunshine was the first home sharing company in Denver, Alison said, and she’s still working on ways to keep seniors at home and happy.

“They don’t need to move out of their homes,” Alison said. “They just need a little help.”

Alison said Sunshine caters to homeowners over 55 and screens all applicants before matches are considered. Applicants undergo credit and background checks, and must undergo a mental health evaluation conducted by social workers. That evaluation isn’t to disqualify applications, but it allows potential matches to just understand more about who their new roommate will be.

Sunshine doesn’t just find you a match and check out, Alison said. The service monitors the arrangement, often acting as mediators and working to ensure both clients communicate well with each other. As to mental health issues, that, too, is monitored throughout the stay. The fee is $50 for the initial screening and donations are suggested, depending on income and the amount of work done. 

“They are very supportive after matching someone up,” Sally said. “If we ever have a problem, we can always go back to Sunshine.”

Once the bigger issues are addressed, applicants fill out personal questionnaires, which includes information on habits, likes, dislikes, abilities, disabilities and schedules.

The questionnaire is what makes the match. If the homeowner needs help around the house but not financial help, and a house seeker has time to help but little income, they could be a match.

Once the questionnaire is finished and a match is made, the two applicants meet each other a few times and eventually do a trial week of living together. Alison said that Sally and Marty were so happy, they could hardly wait a full week to start the contract.

The contract is written and decided by the pair themselves. Alison will help with the agreement, weighing in on aspects such as the cost of the house in comparison to the exchange of rent, the cost of labor and any other contributions like splitting groceries or other payments. 

“It’s about fit,” Alison said.

Green Valley Ranch resident, Pamela Young, has recently joined the program because she wants to keep her home of 14 years, but she needs help. She is getting to an age where she can’t work full time and take on all of the upkeep of the house.

“With a little home, you have a lot of responsibilities,” Pamela said.

Although help with bills and housework are helpful, some company is nice, too. The program is open to all ages for seekers but Pamela is looking for someone in her own age group, so she can have a pal.

“Companionship outweighs the others,” Pamela said. “There are many benefits (to the program) and it is a good way to have a friendship and companionship, in every good sense of the word.”

She recently matched up with a woman a little older than her, and they will be meeting soon.

Although the housemates almost always end up caring about each other and helping to take care of each other, they’re not there to become caregivers, Alison said.

Marty says changes in his new living arrangements have made him happier.

“We were pretty lucky we hit it off,” he said. “It’s working together and learning together, and it’s all working out pretty good though.”