Sharing is Caring

Home-share service matches need with opportunity

By Jessica Laskey
May 2022

Lynn and Virgil Nelson have had 17 different people live in their home over the past several years. They don’t run a boarding house. They are home sharers, people who offer unused space to those who need a place to stay.

“It’s not a weird idea, it’s a proven model,” Lynn says, citing 47 home-share organizations across the U.S. “We’ve had the personal experience of how enriching it can be.”

The Nelsons have always been ready to help others. Virgil is a retired American Baptist pastor and the couple traveled the world as missionaries. When they settled in Roseville seven years ago to be closer to grandchildren, they saw the need for affordable housing and realized they could make a difference.

Lynn, Virgil and nonprofit cooperative housing expert Justin Ellerby brainstormed ideas for a home-share platform to match people like the Nelsons with locals looking for housing. HomeShare American River started last June, but Ellerby and the Nelsons put years of planning into the project.

Ellerby and Virgil devised a detailed written application that prospective guests and hosts fill out to identify needs and preferences. Applicants go through background checks. Then comes Lynn’s shining moment—the matchmaking. With her experience as a former director of tutoring centers matching up mentors and kids and working with Habitat for Humanity, she’s the perfect person to identify potential matches.

“Both people have to be a little flexible,” Lynn says. “Sometimes it’s a close match, but we have to encourage a little flexibility. For example, one (guest applicant) didn’t feel like she had anything to give, but the (potential match) host needed help with devices and a presence in the evening when she’s lonely. The guest said she could definitely help with that, so the match worked out.”

When Lynn, Ellerby and a third volunteer identify a potential match, they conduct separate interviews with host and guest to assess compatibility. If all seems positive, the match is made and the home share enters a two-week trial “before great objects are moved from one place to another.” If all is well, the guest moves in.

Participants sign a household agreement that details exactly how the sharing will work, including costs such as utilities and mortgages, and duties like yard work and cleaning. Lynn says hosts can be any age, but most of HomeShare American River’s clients are seniors who need companionship and services. That’s why the nonprofit is considering contracting with an organization to train interested guests in caregiving skills. But she says home sharing is ideal for college students, renters, people transitioning through divorce, aging out of the foster care system and veterans.

“There are 77,000 empty bedrooms just in Placer County,” Lynn says. “Home sharing is a more immediate way to address the need for low-rent, affordable housing and creates informal employment in exchange for low rent for people who need new skill sets. It’s a win-win situation for both guest and host.”

HomeShare American River needs volunteers to assist with matchmaking. Matchmakers interview, screen, assess and suggest matches, conduct home visits, negotiate household agreements, follow through to make sure matches work out and help resolve conflicts. The group needs people all over the region—territory includes Sacramento and Placer counties and the rest of the Greater Sacramento area.

“It’s very enriching to have a new perspective, a different person with different eating habits sharing your kitchen,” Lynn says. “It’s actually very comfortable. We’ve learned lots of new things. The inconveniences are minor compared to the blessing of sharing a home.”

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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