Seniors in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn are learning you’re never too old for a roommate, particularly if that roommate can help you stay in your neighborhood in spite of increasing rents. The long-running Home Sharing Program, which matches New York seniors in need of housing with a spare room, or seniors who have a spare room with a trustworthy renter, may be coming to Bed-Stuy, reports Kings County Politics. The program has already been connecting seniors in New York City neighborhoods for over 20 years, including Manhattan and the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay. Last week, about 30 seniors gathered in Bed-Stuy to hear about home-sharing at a forum sponsored by the office of City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr.
“Housing is an issue in the neighborhood, especially for seniors. A lot of seniors lost their homes to foreclosures, and a lot don’t rent out rooms because of fear,” said Stefani Zinerman, chief of staff for the councilman. She told Kings County Politics that an increasing number of seniors are struggling to afford rent in the neighborhood they may have called home for decades, while many senior homeowners are living alone after their children have moved away. In addition to the help with rent, research has shown that loneliness and social isolation negatively impact health. Over 12 percent of the city’s population are senior citizens. “Older people shouldn’t be in shelters or homeless,” said Zinerman.
The program, state- and city-funded and run by the New York State Foundation for Senior Citizens, links prospective “hosts” who have a spare private bedroom with an adult “guest” in need of a place to stay. One of the matches must be 60 years old or over. The program also serves adult hosts aged 55 or over interested in sharing their homes with developmentally disabled adult guests who are capable of living independently.
Social work staff at the New York State Foundation for Senior Citizens run the confidential screening and matching process, which is based on factors like employment, medical and mental health history. Staff also assist with negotiating the living arrangements. Hosts may ask guests to help cover up to half of what they pay in monthly housing costs, but no more. Everything else is negotiable. Matching services are free, and hosts must give 30-days notice to ask a guest to leave.
“Bedford-Stuyvesant takes pride in its status as an age-friendly neighborhood and our goal is to insure that seniors can age in place. In today’s economy, many seniors in the community live on a fixed income and cannot afford the increasing rents,” said Councilman Cornegy. “By implementing programs such as home-sharing, we create more affordable housing options in an environment that addresses the socioeconomic needs of seniors, contributes to their overall quality of life and improves our community as a whole.”
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.