8 Common Types of Shared Housing Options for Seniors

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Many aging adults are looking for new ways to pay for housing without having to dip too deep into their retirement savings. One such concept, known as shared housing, is growing among seniors.

The reasons shared housing for seniors is more and more popular is due to several factors. First, more people are getting older and looking for alternatives to the traditional assisted living model. Next, compared to assisted living, shared housing can be more affordable. And then there is the social connection benefit.

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Social isolation is becoming more and more of a problem, but especially for women who statistically outlive men. Sharing a home or other residence makes sense in terms of cost, security, and social engagement opportunities.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies reports that while the percentage of older adults living with others is small, this number has grown over the decade between 2006 and 2016. In that specific grouping of aging adults, the number nearly doubled.

For aging adults looking for alternatives to traditional senior housing options, here are some ideas for shared housing.

1. Home Sharing/Roommates

Home sharing is when two or more people decide to share a house. Sometimes the house is co-owned by everyone in the household. In other cases, the home is owned by one person, and the other occupants rent a room and might share in utility and additional costs.

Meals are typically shared since most single-family homes only have one kitchen and dining area. Co-housing for seniors can fall under this category. People who share a home may share a room or have a private room.

Home sharing is for more independent people since there are no support services except for those you arrange. Home accessibility might be an issue unless those accommodations already exist in the home or the owner permits you to add what you need.  

Finding a good home-sharing opportunity could be a challenge in smaller communities, so word of mouth and ads might be the best way to find something. In larger metropolitan areas there are companies like Silvernest, Nesterly, and  Senior Homeshares. Expect other companies that pair seniors with others looking to share a home to come online as demand increases. 

There are pros and cons to home-sharing as with any shared housing choice. Living in close quarters with others works well as long as you all get along. The other considerations are lease agreements and shared costs.

These arrangements need to be spelled out and legal. Make sure that you ask questions about breaking the lease should you need a higher level of care.

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2. Board and care

Board and care is a broad term that covers a range of group housing options that go by different names. A board and care home might be called a residential care home, depending on where you live. The advantages are cost, support, and a more intimate home-like atmosphere.

With board and care, people may share a bedroom or have their private room. A bathroom might be shared and meals are served together in the group dining room.

Some supportive care is offered depending on the residence. In many states board and care homes are licensed as assisted living. Medication management, some personal help, and transportation are standard. Other amenities like those in larger assisted living communities might not be available. 

Board and care homes are for people who like the structure of supervision and assistance but in a house with other seniors. The cost of a board and care home is usually less than assisted living.

Ownership of a board and care home might be by one person, or someone may own several. Since a board and care home might have minimal oversight, do your homework by asking lots of questions and investigating any complaints.

3. Co-housing

Co-housing is a bit of a misleading term in that most co-housing communities have separate residences or cottages that share the same piece of property. There are high-rise co-housing options in some communities, but individual houses are still the norm. The buy-in for co-housing can be expensive, and sharing a residence can get those costs lower. 

Co-housing uses a consensus model of decision-making, and residents are expected to participate in chores and meal preparation. For some seniors, co-housing is the best of both worlds because of the sense of community and the opportunity for privacy. 

Co-housing is one shared housing option that is typically more intergenerational. Many communities welcome people of all ages, including children. Seniors often consider this an advantage since it brings diversity and energy to the community. However, co-housing isn’t for everyone.

Some seniors find the cooperative model doesn’t afford enough privacy and freedom and the consensus decision-making arduous and complicated. Also, since many co-housing communities are in more rural areas, access to medical facilities might be limited. 

4. College Life

University-based retirement communities (UBRC) are housing developments located on university campuses. Universities have land for senior housing developments that provide income to Universities while affording seniors a living environment with all of college life amenities.

These developments are condos, single-family homes, apartment high rises, or townhomes. Buy-in costs can be high, so there is an opportunity for sharing space with one or more people to make it more affordable. 

The benefits are appealing to active seniors. Many UBRCs allow seniors to take non-credit college classes, use the fitness facilities, access arts and cultural activities, including music, theater performances, art galleries, and libraries.

Also, as most major universities are in larger cities, this can be an ideal setup thanks to the proximity to medical centers. In addition, the energy of an intergenerational environment can be exciting for some aging adults.

5. Intergenerational Communities

You probably think of intergenerational communities as intentional developments hoping to bring the generations together. Those exist, but a growing number of housing options for younger people are attracting seniors. Take Ollie, for example.

Ollie provides all-inclusive living that caters to young people but reports that over 20 percent of their inquiries are from older adults. Why? Ollie’s urban developments include housekeeping, furnished apartments, cable, fitness amenities, and help finding a roommate. 

The other intergenerational shared housing option is students living with seniors. In college towns, older adults rent out rooms in their houses to students. The advantages are that the senior gets extra income and has someone in the house for conversation and security.

Some larger cities have companies that pair seniors with younger people and do all criminal and financial background checks. 

6. Living with Your Kids

Living with your kids, or having them living with you has gained in popularity sometimes out of necessity. Especially during the pandemic, many younger people lost their jobs or took a gap year from college and moved in with mom and dad. 

This arrangement can work well for everyone if there are rules in place and expectations are spelled out in advance of any agreed-upon living situation. Financially this situation may not be beneficial since if your adult child is not working, they can’t contribute to the household. But they can help in other ways by providing care or helping with household chores. 

The other trend is seniors moving in permanently with their adult children. For many families, this is a good solution when one or more parents need more support. As long as there is a clear financial agreement in place, both parent and adult child can benefit from combining resources and sharing in costs. 

Living together under one roof can present several problems, including privacy issues, financial agreements, and what to do if you need more care. If one of your adult children is providing care for you, what are the limits to that care? What if you need assisted living or nursing home care?

Having a good long-term plan in place that everyone agrees to is the best way to ensure a successful transition to living together. 

7. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Accessory dwelling units, or “granny flats,” are separate self-contained, smaller housing units located on the grounds of a single-family home. The advantage is that you have your private space but are very close to your family should you want to spend time with them or need help.

The main impediment to an ADU is zoning laws. Some locales do not permit accessory dwelling units, so you will want to know if they are permitted in your location. Laws vary even from county to county. As the homeowner, you will also want to consider how an ADU affects your home value.

8. Sharing Independent and Assisted Living

Assisted living and independent senior living costs can be high depending on where you live and the level of care you need. Two unrelated people sharing space in independent or assisted living is an option.

Most senior communities do not place restrictions on the type of relationship that two people have when living together. Two seniors might both be widowed and want the support and socialization of another person in the space. 

The most significant advantage of shared independent and assisted living is financial. Splitting the cost of a two-bedroom will probably be far more affordable than two one-bedroom units.

With such close quarters, though, the two of you had better get along! Make this decision with great care and have open and honest conversations about privacy, costs, and visitations from other family members. 

Finding Shared Housing for Seniors

It is an exciting time to consider all of the shared housing opportunities for seniors. The challenge is to find the best fit for your needs. Explore the options with an open mind, but do your due diligence and ensure that your decision is one that will keep you safe and happy.

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