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Homesharing meets challenges for homeowners and renters

8/1/2017

Gerard Joab, Executive Director, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center

Challenge: Both homeowners and renters can face financial challenges. For renters on limited incomes, a history of bad credit or evictions can limit options, and high-interest debt can limit housing budgets. Homeowners may struggle with mortgage payments and other expenses. Is there a solution to address the issues on both sides?

A taller black woman has her arm around a black senior

Traditional housing assistance programs are unable to respond to the overwhelming need for affordable housing in the Baltimore area. When the waiting list for the Section 8 Housing Choice voucher program opened for a week in October 2014, it was the first time the Housing Authority of Baltimore City had accepted applications since 2003. The housing authority received more than 10,000 applications in the first hour, and more than 60,000 over the course of the enrollment week. In a random lottery, fewer than half were chosen to be added to the waiting list, and it will likely be years before those selected receive a Housing Choice voucher. In the surrounding Baltimore County, where the odds are more favorable, there is still a nine-year wait to receive a Housing Choice voucher.

Fair market rent in our region hovers around $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, causing many people to fall through the cracks. Other residents have limited options for different reasons, such as a history of bad credit and crushing debt.
 
Meanwhile, our Baltimore neighborhoods are filled with homeowners who are struggling to afford the costs of mortgage payments, utility bills and necessary upkeep on their homes. These homeowners are looking for a financial solution that doesn't force them to give up their homes and communities.

A successful match-up of these renters and owners can create housing and financial stability. It helps the owner pay the bills and provides housing for tenants poorly served by the traditional rental market. "Homesharing" can also help combat feelings of isolation and provides the additional comfort and security of living with a companion.

Since its founding in 1968, St. Ambrose has been committed to providing innovative, comprehensive housing services to vulnerable homeowners, renters and neighborhoods in Baltimore.

Our Homesharing program fills a gap where traditional housing assistance programs have been unable to meet the community's needs and has been working for an expanding demographic of homeowners and renters in the Baltimore area since 1988. It is the only one of its kind in the state of Maryland and has served as a model for homesharing startups in other states.

St. Ambrose Homesharing counselors screen Homesharing applicants through interviews, background checks and personal references before recommending a match. Counselors provide budgeting assistance, home assessments, housing counseling, mediation and referrals to supportive services.

After the initial screening and interview process, Homesharing counselors recommend a match between a home provider and home seeker. The match is finalized at a meeting where parties discuss their expectations and sign a contract.

Matches can be finalized in as little as a week, a stark contrast to other public housing programs. In addition, counselors connect clients with other community resources from St. Ambrose and elsewhere, and are available to serve as mediators if problems arise.

Home seekers pay, on average, $500 a month, including utilities -- roughly half of fair market rent in Baltimore. The deal enables renters to reduce debt, pay for education or simply achieve housing stability. The extra monthly income for home providers, which averages $6,000 a year, helps them to pay their bills on time, make necessary home improvements or simply to keep their homes.

Homesharing has adapted and expanded over the years to respond to changing community needs. It was founded to reduce the financial burden on seniors who wanted to stay in their communities. The economic downturn in 2008, however, broadened the demographics of the home providers in the program. Today, 36 percent of home providers are older than 65.

The demographics of home seekers have also expanded. In 2015, with support from the O'Neill Foundation, St. Ambrose launched "Parent-Child Homesharing," a pilot program to explore Homesharing as a housing solution for single parents.

The goal of "Parent-Child Homesharing" is to create an affordable and stable housing option for a single parent and their child, as well as provide case management and other supportive family services. The hope is that this supportive housing model will foster greater family stability and self-sufficiency. The vast demand during the pilot-year solidifies our commitment to make Parent-Child Homesharing a permanent part of our program.

At its core, Homesharing provides income for struggling homeowners and affordable housing for individuals who need it. But it does more than that: By taking such care with each match, it fosters social connections that reflect in the larger community, and help to build strong, safe, supportive and diverse neighborhoods.

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