Share houses are often seen as the exclusive domain of those in their 20s, and something people move on from, but the increasing number of people choosing to return to share-house living is being seen in the older demographic.
Marie Theodore-Daly 73, shares a house with other younger residents and Django the dog. Though finances are a driver in her decision to house share, the benefits are far greater. “I don’t know if I could live any other way now,” she says. “I’ve got friends who find it hard to understand why I would want to share … but living in share houses, particularly with younger people, has kept me young in my thinking and in appreciation of life.”
But the benefits flow both ways. Theodore-Daly’s life experience means that she is a very clear communicator and knows all the ingredients for successful shared living. “When people come in for an interview, I always set out rules and we all agree on the person,” she says. In her home, housemates enter as strangers and quickly become friends, providing mutual support and connection.
This was the case for Paul van Reyk, 65, who shares a house with a woman, also in her 60s. “We’re very old friends and now housemates,” he says. While house-sharing arrangements tend to be transitory and often in rented accommodation, van Reyk and his housemate co-own the house that they have shared for more than 20 years. They even share the ownership of two dogs.
What is it like sharing a house later in life? “Sharing has given me access to a property and lifestyle that I otherwise could not have afforded,” he says. Like all share houses, the basics of life need to be attended to. “Because we were friends before living together, we’ve never had any formal agreements,” says van Reyk, who is familiar with the challenges of share housing through his work for a tenants’ union. “Whoever gets the bill first pays and from time to time, we sit down and work out who’s paid for what.”
Theodore-Daly also insists that good communication, and shared food, is the crux of a successful share house. “We email each other but mainly use a communication book that is in the kitchen all the time,” she says. “We have an evening meal together some days and we have regular house meetings with coffee and croissants.”
In 2016, flatmates.com.au, recorded that the largest increase of house sharers was in the 60-64 age bracket with 43 per cent relative growth. This increasing demand from seniors for house sharing arrangements was enough to prompt independent website seniorhousingonline.com.au to start offering free senior flatmate ads. While the site was set up in 2004 to help people access information about retirement accommodation, in 2016, co-founder Amanda Graham saw the site’s potential for linking like-minded strangers to form share house relationships.
Marie Theodore-Daly, 73, with housemate Jasmin, 25, and their communication book.
“Some people are going into share housing because they can’t afford an alternative,” says Graham. “They might have divorced, or lost a partner, been made redundant, or relocated. Others are simply hitting their 50s still with a large mortgage. Our site is about using the digital economy to connect people.”
Graham reminds us that share housing is not a new concept to those who are now in their 60s and 70s. “This is the generation who pioneered share housing in their 20s,” she says. “It’s not foreign to them.” Theodore-Daly is an example of this, as she grew up in a family who always welcomed friends and strangers into their home, and then in her 20s and 30s she lived in commune-style houses. “I guess I am an old hippie at heart,” she says.
One concerning aspect of share house living that is more likely to rear its head for older housemates, is the need for health-related care. While house sharing can provide more support than living alone, it is not necessarily an arrangement that will cope with significant illness or high care needs. Van Reyk and his housemate have spoken about what might happen down the track as they get older. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in five or 10 years’ time, but we’re comfortable enough with each other to talk about it.”
Sourced from Domain.com.au and written by Vivienne Pearson.
Next month issue will have a whole article with other co-housing options.