NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you think Millennials are struggling to find affordable rentals, think about their parents. A recent report from market intel provider RentRange and Salt Lake City-based Real Property Management shows a year-to-date 6.1% uptick to $1,320 per month for rental rates for three-bedroom single-family homes.
That certainly raises the bar of affordability for recent graduates, but it also raises the threshold of comfortable living for cash-strapped retirees with a fixed monthly income, as well as pre-retirees—some of whom carry education loan debt on behalf of their children and many of whom are still recovering from the 2008 recession.
Real Property Management’s Bob Pifke says that just as Millennials take on housemates or roommates to cover the rent, Boomers may want to consider something similar.
“Boomers should re-evaluate living alone," says Pifke. "Why not consider renting out an extra bedroom? Besides the income, they might find having a roommate rewarding.”
Also rewarding is shacking up with relatives. While 85% of seniors are heads-of-household, the U.S. Census’s most recent American Community Survey puts the number of seniors living in a house headed by their children, children-in-law-, or non-spousal relatives at 9% in 2012. The benefits of intergenerational living are well documented, as seniors find it easier to combat isolation and loneliness and the youngest members of the household find a sense of continuity and richer concept of family.
For Pifke, though, Boomers should think about other types of communal living situations with non-relatives—less "Frasier," more "Golden Girls," as 2% of seniors, according to the Census Bureau, already do. He also points to what he calls senior dormitories—a more institutional version of cohabitation.
“It seems improbable, but senior dormitories, or something similar to dormitories, might also be a solution,” he says, which could take a lesson from retirement homes (or, “senior living complexes”) that offer residents costly private amenities such as bathrooms and kitchens when, in fact, those amenities could be shared, communal spaces—thereby reducing costs.
The differences between women versus men living alone, living with their spouse, or living with a relative or non-relative can be explained by life expectancy. Women live longer than men, therefore the number of men over 65 living with their spouses is 70% while the number of women in the same group living with their spouses is 41%, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. When their spouses expire, women are more likely to live alone (37%) than with other relatives or non-relatives (21%).
But, rising rents may shift that balance—making widows or single senior women particularly susceptible to market trends. And, as one Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report notes, 84% of single senior households—mostly senior women—are financially vulnerable.
That figure is derived from the Senior Financial Stability Index, administered jointly by the public policy think-tank Demos and Brandeis University. The most recent data, from 2011, notes that among single senior women only, 47% were deemed “insecure” in 2011, up from 35% in 2008. The reasons? Single senior women homeowners live in older homes that require “substantial maintenance,” and are too often targets of predatory lending sharks. Among single senior women renters, the ratio of income to rent is unfavorable and will likely be made worse as rents continue to climb.
Pifke’s observation about the Golden Girls model of living may, in the end, be the thing that can, at best, reverse the trend of financial insecurity for senior women and, at worst, slow it.
Sally Abrahms, who regularly contributes to AARP.org’s blog, agrees. She points to housemate- or roommate-finders like Let’s Share Housing can match seniors according to preferences and income. At press time, Let’s Share Housing’s site was down for maintenance, but other solutions are out there, such as the National Shared Housing Resource Center or Home Share Now—all of which stress the importance of clear boundaries and legal agreements.
That raises another point of kinship between Boomers and Millennials: panicked cries of “who ate my cereal” echoing through the halls. It’s the kind of life coda that was unimaginable a generation ago.