Editorials

Sharing homes and hearts helps fabric of community

Shared Housing Services matched Wayne Cooke, 84, of Graham with Mandy Riffle, 51. She gets low-cost housing and he gets help with household chores, such as tending the six chickens kept for eggs.
Shared Housing Services matched Wayne Cooke, 84, of Graham with Mandy Riffle, 51. She gets low-cost housing and he gets help with household chores, such as tending the six chickens kept for eggs. Staff file

Affordable housing are buzz words these days as communities seek solutions to help lower-income residents in an increasingly tight residential market.

People are being priced out of their own neighborhoods by gentrification and rising property values. Aging residents with fixed incomes and health issues might be hard-pressed to maintain a home by themselves. And young people increasingly have trouble finding a place to live near where they work that fits into a meager budget.

But there’s a nonprofit organization in Tacoma that’s working to address affordable housing problems in a way that doesn’t involve new construction or federal subsidies. And it helps preserve housing stock and the fabric of neighborhoods by enabling people to continue living in their homes.

Shared Housing Services, led by new executive director Mark Merrill, does it by making human connections – between people who have a home but need a little help and people who need a home and can provide that help.

Shared Housing is the go-between matching home providers with home seekers. Applicants are screened for compatibility of lifestyle and temperament, references are contacted and criminal backgrounds are checked with the State Patrol.

When a home provider and home seeker are matched, they negotiate living arrangements and how much rent and/or assistance – such as running errands or doing yardwork – will be provided in exchange for housing.

For an older person who might need a little help with daily life, this can mean being able to stay in their home and avoiding costly support services.

The News Tribune’s Larry LaRue illustrated how that works in a recent column about a Shared Housing success story: 84-year-old Wayne Cooke of Graham and 51-year-old roommate Mandy Riffle.

Cooke has macular degeneration and needed help with driving and chores. Riffle needed a place to live that fit into a tight budget. Matched by Shared Housing, the two are happy supporters of the program. She cooks for the two of them and enjoys growing things in Cooke’s large garden. It’s worked out so well, Riffle’s rent has been dropped from $300 per month to $200, and they’ve become “best friends,” she says.

Not all housing challenges can be met with this kind of arrangement. A mom with young children, for example, could be a hard match. For that reason, Shared Housing acquired property on the Hilltop that had been boarded up by the city, renovated it and now makes it available as transitional housing for several low-income families in crisis.

Homeless youth also get help from Shared Housing, with young people being matched with a supportive adult or family. Home providers get support services as well as some financial assistance. The organization could use more host homes to provide stability to youths who otherwise might be exploited on the streets.

This kind of grass-roots nonprofit – which grew out of one woman asking for help at Immanuel Presbyterian Church – is performing good work in the South Sound. It deserves community support.

How to help or get help

Visit sharedhousingservices.org or call 253-272-1532.

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