Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics
newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
Diane Lincoln Estes
Diane Lincoln Estes
Leave your feedback
Amid high inflation and rising housing costs, some seniors are turning to home-sharing. Economics correspondent Paul Solman has the story about a growing number of baby boomers who are becoming "boommates."
Amid high inflation and rising housing costs, it's not just young people looking for roommates. Some Americans in their 60s and 70s are turning to home-sharing.
Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has the story about a growing number of Baby Boomers who are considering becoming Boommates.
Becky Miller, Retiree:
Going to get some sunflower seeds. There.
For years Becky Miller, age 72, had only one companion.
There you go.
Maxi (ph), a green-cheeked conure.
That's momma's Maxi bird.
But Maxi doesn't pay rent. And Miller, a retired receptionist, was having trouble making ends meet.
I'm single, so I wasn't able to put a lot into my IRA. So I depleted it. My mortgage and my HOA fees were over half of my income. So I decided for financial reasons to get a roommate.
Sixty-four-year-old divorcee Marlene Mears moved into Miller's Longmont, Colorado, home a year-and-a-half ago.
Marlene Mears, Retiree:
I like saving money. I like having another person to talk to, to have a relationship with. It's nice to have some companionship when you're at home.
It's not happy.
Miller and Mears found each other on Silvernest, an Internet platform that matches older homeowners with housemates.
Riley Gibson, President, Silvernest:
There's a significant portion of the population going into their mid-60s with $20,000, $30,000 in their 401(k)s or nothing saved.
Well, this one's starting to fade.
So seniors like Miller and Mears feel the need to home-share, says Silvernest president Riley Gibson.
Since the start of 2022, with inflation rising, just people under so much more financial pressure, the first half of this year, we have seen by far more activity, probably two to three times the activity we have seen in previous years.
But it's just part of a much longer-term trend, explains Harvard's Jennifer Molinsky.
Jennifer Molinsky, Harvard University:
We often hear about "The Golden Girls" television show.
Rue McClanahan, Actress:
I know it's awful, but I have this incredible sweet tooth.
Bea Arthur, Actress:
What is it?
Betty White, Actress:
Oh, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Turns out Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia were a harbinger.
Twenty years ago, it was about 1 percent of older adults were house-sharing with a nonrelative. Today, it's over a million older adults, more than double the number in that time.
Small wonder, given the rise in housing costs.
Hi. Come on in, folks.
Over a third of older adult households have a cost burden paying over 30 percent of their income on housing. Half of those are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing. What people do is they start cutting back on other necessities like food and out-of-pocket medical care, insurance, which really affects much more than your financial well-being. It affects your overall well-being.
Brenda Atchison's house in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston has been in her family since 1946.
Brenda Atchison, Retiree:
This is where I sleep. This is my bedroom. It has a lot of just artifacts and eclectic stuff.
But after a career in I.T. and education ended, Atchison struggled to maintain the place.
I kind of retired prematurely and realized I had a big old house that needed to be heated, needed repairs, et cetera, and that I was older. So I knew I was moving into an area where I was going to have a fixed income and began to say, oh, how are we going to work this out?
She worked it out by renting a room to a young grad student. For me, this was a major move in terms of my lifestyle, because I wasn't used to sharing space. And it's just lovely.
And this is Christian's room.
So surprisingly lovely, in fact, the student living upstairs now is roommate number six.
Dr. Christian Mazimpaka, Graduate Student:
Sir, my bed. And then I spend most of my time sitting here.
Rwandan Dr. Christian Mazimpaka is studying public health at Boston University. She's very organized. And she likes the place to be clean. And that was not new to me, because my mom was like that.
Does she remind you of your mom?
Dr. Christian Mazimpaka:
So, when I forget to take the trash out…
She will remind you?
She keeps an eye on him, he on her.
But do you worry about her sometimes, I mean, particularly during COVID?
I feel like, if I stay in my room, and I don't hear that movement for the whole day, I'd be worried.
And Atchison, who's single, now really likes having someone around.
To be able to be connecting with people who are outside of my sphere — Christian is not my peer. None of the students who have come here have been my peers, but have they all been my friends? Have they all taught me — see, I love learning. I just want to continue to learn.
Connection is key, since social isolation for the elderly is linked to higher risk of depression, dementia, premature death.
At first, Becky Miller wasn't so sure she wanted someone sharing her Colorado space either.
I thought, oh, my gosh, somebody's going to come in and use my kitchen.
But that turned into the proverbial blessing in disguise.
I don't have to cook supper every night.
We take turns cooking supper. And, oh, this chicken recipe that she's making tonight — what's the name of that chicken recipe?
Mediterranean chicken thighs with lemon and garlic.
That is so good. We're having a friend over, and we're just going to pig out on that.
But, of course, taking in an unknown roommate isn't for everyone.
Deborah Sines, Retiree:
I don't want strangers in my house.
That's my cousin, Deborah Sines. Every week, I Zoom with her and other relatives, all retired single women.
I don't care how nice they are. I don't want them messing with my stuff. I just love being able to eat if I want to, not eat if I don't want to, not having to put clothes on if I don't want to, and just feeling — I think the word is free.
Does this resonate for you, Rosemary?
Rosemary Weiss, Retiree:
Year. Yes, I would rather cut down on other things, than have a paying roommate.
By contrast, my sister, Ronni, a widow, started renting out her spare room.
How much of the motivation was financial?
Ronni Solman, Retiree:
I'd say most of it was financial. But I found — I found it was rewarding to have another human on the property also, sense of company, I think.
Padme Livingstone, Retiree:
For me, it was mostly financial.
Cousin Padme, 73, had hoped for more connection from her housemates, but:
I had a few people who were not social. I just had to let go of my ideas about more companionship.
As more boomers retire and if the cost of living keeps climbing, home-sharing may become a common place, says Silvernest's Riley Gibson.
We're going to have to get creative and try some new things, find some new ways of living, finding new ways to think about the single-family home, because we have to.
Brenda Atchison is glad she did.
Being housing-insecure, being — that's not comfortable. It's not. I can tell you, it's not a comfortable feeling. I lived on that edge for quite some time. So I don't ever want to go back to that.
But, she says:
It's the social piece that means more to me now than the financial piece ever could.
Becky Miller, she agrees.
I get a feeling of peace. I have always been by myself. And I discovered that I have room in my heart for another person.
Relationships born of necessity that have grown into something a lot less transactional.
For the "PBS NewsHour," Paul Solman.
Watch the Full Episode
Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
Diane Lincoln Estes is a producer at PBS NewsHour, where she works on economics stories for Making Sen$e.
Support Provided By: