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Seniors share homes for cost saving, companionship

It's not exactly ''The Golden Girls,'' but for Marcia Rosenfeld, it'll do. She is among the thousands of aging Americans taking part in home-sharing programs that allow seniors to stay in their homes and save money while getting much-needed companionship.

''It's a wonderful arrangement,'' said the white-haired Rosenfeld, who when asked her age will say only that she's a senior citizen. ''The way the rents are these days, I couldn't stay here without it.''

She shares her two-bedroom, $1,000-a-month Brooklyn apartment with Carolyn Allen, 69, a widow who has had two strokes and no longer wants to live alone.

Agencies that put such seniors together say the need appears to be growing as baby boomers age.


A typical situation involves an elderly woman, widowed or divorced, who has a house or an apartment with extra room and needs help with the upkeep.

''Our seniors want to remain part of the community they were raised in, where they worked and went to church,'' said Jackie Grossman, director of the home-sharing program at Open Communities in the Chicago suburbs. ''They don't want to be just with other seniors."

At the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, where the number of applicants has tripled since 2008, a boarder pays $700 a month, on average. The same average holds at the HIP Housing program in San Mateo, Calif., but it is about $500 at the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore.

Agencies handle background checks and other screening and consider various lifestyle criteria — smoking, pets, disposable income — in making matches. New roommates sign an agreement covering chores, overnight visitors, telephone use, and so on.

Not all agencies limit applicants to seniors. In the New York program, only one of the two people has to be 60 or older.

The agencies' services mean that people who want a roommate don't have to post notices in neighborhood weeklies or online and worry about who will respond.


''Craigslist can be very scary, especially for women,'' said Connie Skillingstad, president of Golden Girl Homes in Robbinsdale, Minn., which refers women to housing resources, including home-sharing.

Companionship is an important side benefit.

Grossman said many lasting friendships develop, ''and for others there's just mutual respect, and that's fine, too.''

Rosenfeld and Allen, roommates for three years, both said they feel more like business associates than longtime friends — but they still gab like sisters.