Housing Crisis in Sarasota for the Elderly
Deborah Graves felt safe and hopeful as she drove to the matchmaking session at Siesta Key a few years ago.
A veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a former corporate information technology specialist, her training was perfect for the Sarasota HomeShare program.
“I just wanted a temporary life situation until I could find something to buy,” said Graves, now 62.
The house was big and clean, with a room and a bathroom just for her. Equally important, the landlady, an 80-year-old widow looking for company, was friendly and respectful, her conditions flexible, and her rent reasonable.
The two got it right, chatting long after the woman’s daughter and HomeShare’s wedding left.
HomeShare Sarasota combines landlords with extra space with tenants looking for an affordable place to live. This type of marriage could help hundreds, if not thousands, of other Sarasota residents, advocates say, amid a major housing crisis and a loneliness “epidemic” affecting older Americans.
It started in 2018 as a pilot project with Senior Friendly Centers to pair older homeowners with younger professionals, then expanded to include older tenants as well. Since then, demand has skyrocketed.
Now run by the non-profit Sarasota Housing Financing Corporation, HomeShare Sarasota is flooded with calls from tenants, especially the elderly, as they are increasingly being charged the market, says coordinator Ruth Shaulis.
But the biggest challenge of the program lies on the other side of the party: finding owners willing to join.
“My thought is that a lot of them may not know this is an option,” Shaulis said.
More housing needs for the elderly than ever before
In Sarasota County, there are more than 26,000 owner-occupied homes with people over the age of 65 living alone. More than half of them are 75 or older, according to the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida.
As for tenants, more than 8,500 of them are over 65 living alone, more than half are over 75 years old.
It is these two groups that Shauls is trying to match.
Work hard to match compatible personalities and interests. But his efforts were halted during blockades and health problems at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, he only managed to play one game.
But in that time, with local rents rising by almost 50%, the highest rate in the country, calls from tenants doubled, almost all from seniors, he said.
The benefits of sharing a home go beyond money
The program, Shaulis points out, not only helps tenants. It is also beneficial for homeowners. In addition to providing additional income, having a trusted person nearby can be crucial in the event of a health emergency.
What happened next in Graves’ match underscores his point.
After Graves moved in, the two women sometimes enjoyed meals or social outings between Graves ’work with two nonprofits, including one that helped local veteran women confront people without home.
But within weeks, Graves realized the woman’s memory was slipping away. He forgot to pay the utility bills. Other signs of early dementia and physical health problems appeared.
“At first I committed to prayer and then I got in touch with the daughter I had met during the interview before moving in,” she said.
The daughter, who lived outside the state, notified other relatives and later, expressing gratitude to Graves for her attentive care, obtained specialized care for her mother, and eventually moved her to a living center. assisted.
For housing advocates, the case of Graves is a good example not only of how HomeShare benefits both parties, but also how it addresses two overlapping crises that especially affect the elderly.
One is affordable housing. The other is what many studies have called an “epidemic” of loneliness and social isolation among older Americans, which is exacerbated when spouses die and older children live far away.
Studies link loneliness among the elderly with a greater propensity for illness and premature death, health hazards considered as serious as cigarette smoking.
The intangible benefits of sharing a home
A local housing expert is Louise Machinist, a Sarasota resident who is one of the authors of the book “My House Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household.” In the book, she and her two co-authors recount their experiences as homeowners and sharing a home in the Pittsburgh area.
Although they were friends and co-investors, not tenant landlords like HomeShare, he said many of the issues they faced were with both groups. This ranges from splitting household responsibilities to resolving legal agreements and balancing privacy with a sense of community and fun.
“There are many benefits, many of them intangible,” said Machinist, 75, a retired clinical psychologist. “It’s not all about finances, like having people to interact with and having people if you have problems. To sound the alarm and be there for you.
For many Sarasota elders, the clock is ticking
After leaving Siesta Key’s house, Graves soon set out to find another place to live. He had secured a VA home loan, but found that the sellers, with cash and conventional deals in a hot market, were not interested.
Graves is back on the list on HomeShare Sarasota, staying with family and friends while he waits for another game.
“Only until I can find the right property to buy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shaulis needs owners willing to try something new.
“It’s a needle in a haystack,” he said. “We have all these houses with all these empty rooms and bathrooms, and I need to find … those people willing to try the shared house.”
For so many seniors with a price out of their rentals, the clock is ticking. And a good match, Shaulis said, can take a while, something that callers don’t have.
“Unfortunately,” Shaulis said, “the people who call me are desperate.”
HomeShare provides background checks and references for both the tenant and the landlord, a home inspection, and facilitates meetings between the parties to discern compatibility. Once the match is made, the rent is agreed and a lease is signed. HomeShare keeps track to make sure both parties are still comfortable with the game.
For more information about Sarasota HomeShare, go to sarasotahousing501c3.org.