Valley Information – As demand for Vermont’s dwelling share program grows, extra strangers are shifting in collectively

Hidden among the trees of Forest Road in St. George, Vt., two strangers in their 40s began sharing a home.

Carol Blakely, a retired teacher in her 70s and mother of four, once had a house full of people. But her children grew up and moved away, and her husband died, leaving only their 11-year-old French Canadian cat, named Poppy.

That was until last August when Katie Bailey, 32, moved in.

Blakely and Bailey became roommates through an increasingly popular program run by the nonprofit HomeShare Vermont that matches Vermonters (aka “hosts”) who have permanent housing but need financial or other assistance with “guests” who are looking for affordable ones Living room.

As home prices skyrocket and housing options remain scarce, HomeShare Vermont is unable to find enough hosts to meet guest application demand.

“Typically, we have three to four times as many people looking for a home as there are people willing to share their homes,” said Kirby Dunn, executive director of the organization.

HomeShare Vermont currently serves Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille, Orange and Washington counties. The organization matches “hosts” and “guests” based on applicants’ lifestyles, personal preferences, and needs.

In an attempt to encourage new homeowners in Burlington to host through HomeShare Vermont, the Burlington City Council unanimously approved a year-long pilot program last month. The program allocates $1,000 to 30 hosts over a 12-month period.

HomeShare Vermont is applying for $30,000 from the Burlington Housing Trust Fund to fund the program. The Trust is expected to make a decision on the application by early December.

“We’re really trying to encourage more people to share their homes, especially with the downturn in the economy that people might want to think about,” Dunn said.

Dunn said she’s recently noticed an increase in the number of younger people applying to host.

But at the same time, she said HomeShare competes in the short-term rental market, which has the potential to offer more lucrative returns for those who open their homes.

Blakely said she decided to apply to be a hostess not because she needed help or extra money, but because she thought it was “stupid” to have her house empty when so many people need affordable housing.

“I mean, if Katie was my daughter, I wouldn’t want her to honestly go and live with someone on Craigslist,” Blakely said.

Bailey struggled to find housing when he moved from Chicago for a nine-month teaching position at the University of Vermont. The cheapest option she could find online for a studio apartment that “didn’t appear to have bugs” would cost more than half of her after-tax income, she said.

She learned about HomeShare Vermont from Teresa Mares, then interim chair of the UVM’s Department of Anthropology.

Mares said she saw graduate students and faculty members struggle to find housing, especially when they had limited time to do so. A few years ago, before she was married and had kids, Mares looked into the home share program herself because of how expensive it is to live in Chittenden County.

With HomeShare Vermont, hosts in Chittenden County can charge up to $650 a month in rent and $550 elsewhere in the state.

In practice, however, many hosts charge significantly less. The average rent, which is up 18% since 2018, was $340 in fiscal 2022, according to the organization.

In contrast, the average monthly rent in Vermont in 2021 was $1,115, according to census data.

Applying to HomeShare Vermont is free. However, if a couple is successfully matched, both parties will be charged a one-time fee ranging from $60 to $500, depending on income.

On paper, Blakely and Bailey’s HomeShare agreement is a purely financial exchange, with Bailey paying the maximum rent of $650. Blakely lives on the first floor while Bailey occupies the second, allowing both of them to have their own space without feeling like they need to constantly socialize, something the two addressed with each other when they first joined Have met and met online.

Despite this, Bailey said she looks after Poppy, sometimes with the help of a neighbor, when Blakely goes to visit her children.

In the few months that Blakely and Bailey have shared a house, they have visited an orchard and ate together. Blakely even introduced Bailey to the world of the Vermont Creemees.

“It’s great to have a presence in the house,” said Blakely, who has lived alone for the past 15 years. “There are no expectations, but I know if something happened or whatever, or I, I don’t know, was sick for some reason or broke my foot … there’s someone around.”

In two-thirds of Vermont’s HomeShare arrangements, the guest provides the host with some level of assistance—like shopping for groceries or taking the host’s pet to the vet.

These pairings often involve elderly hosts who need help with daily chores. According to census data, Vermont has the second-highest median age — about 43 — in the nation, and home nursing staff shortages remain a problem.

Although HomeShare Vermont gets many calls from people who need a nursing home or around-the-clock care, Dunn said the organization’s program isn’t designed to meet these types of intense needs.

In Stowe, HomeShare guest Gretchen Mills, 63, doesn’t pay rent to keep 89-year-old Hesterly Black company and cook meals.

The couple have been living together since September and plan to continue depending on their health for Black’s life.

Mills, who moved to Vermont from Northern California earlier this year, said she needed to minimize her housing costs in order to start a leadership development agency.

Black, meanwhile, had considered applying to HomeShare “for a long time” after one of her children brought her a pamphlet for the program a few years ago.

She began having trouble walking or, in her words, became less “frisky.”

“I’ve lived alone for quite a long time and at my age I was worried if something actually happened to me, no one would know for quite a while,” Black said. HomeShare’s background checks and interviews gave her the reassurance she needed about not letting a complete stranger into her home.

So far, she and Mills have lived seamlessly together, with Mills preparing most of the meals, including her favorite dish, pork with chutney sauce.

Though there are some geographic differences, including Black raising an eyebrow at Mills’ morning avocado toast — which Black concluded was a California invention — the two enjoyed cooking and eating .

“We often cook together and we always eat together. So it’s just nice to have that kind of cadence in a day,” Mills said.

In the three months of living together, they have introduced themselves to their families, taken a day trip to Burlington, and made trips to a craft market and Smuggler’s Notch.

Black’s three-bedroom house is filled with animals, including a gray parrot, two dogs, a Gloster canary named Donald for the tuft of hair on his head, and a beta fish named Liberace for his flowing fins.

“I have animals — I’ve always had animals — so Gretchen had to deal with that,” Black said with a mischievous smile.

Mills doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she said the moment she realized it was a perfect fit was when she was sitting in Black’s living room, the dogs stretched out on her lap, listening to Black and her daughter name the species of birds that were too flew to the bird feeders.

Living with Black, she said, “felt like home.”

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