With room to spare

Home Share Oregon seeks to unite empty rooms with people who need them

Dec. 27, 2022 — “In the state of Oregon alone, we have to build 9,000 units of housing per year, for the next 11 years, just to catch up to where we should be,” said Tess Fields, executive director of Home Share Oregon (HSO). “We cannot just build our way out of this problem. We have got to figure out a way to put to work what we consider to be underutilized housing infrastructure — and that's spare bedrooms.”

With an online matching program that connects homeowners who have a spare bedroom to rent and home seekers in need of affordable housing, HSO’s goal is to expand access to affordable housing — and prevent the homelessness before it starts.

The program, which is accessed through homeshareoregon.org, is still in its infancy with 700 signed up statewide, and none in the Siuslaw region.

 While HSO does have a dedicated Lane County area manager to help assist early-adopters, Fields hopes the program will grow and become ubiquitous with solutions in the region's housing issues.

“Part of the homeshare programmatic goal is to build out a volunteer base in each county —and we're doing this over in Florence — to have a team of nine to 10 volunteers,” she said. “We're building this part out, especially for our senior population.”

Seniors make up the majority of HSO users, though all ages are welcome. But homesharing is not for everyone. While HSO offers various online examples and support at the beginning of the process, it puts an emphasis on “empowering people to do it themselves.” And the process is not quick.

“It's not, 'Hey, I just met you, come on and move into my house, and it's all going to be good.’ It’s a process,” Fields said. “Be thoughtful and deliberate because nobody wants to end up in a bad situation. Everybody wants it to be successful. We've found that there's a great deal of success and happiness — when people do the work on the front end.”

For those who do decide to homeshare, Fields states it could help subsidize housing expenses for those who are house rich but cash poor, renters or homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes, workers looking for temporary housing or simply looking for a more social living experience.

“Maybe they’re spending 60 or 40 percent of their income on a mortgage, and they’re at risk of losing their home,” Fields said. “A lot of our seniors who are living on Social Security, many of them often can be spending 80 to 90 percent of their check just on their mortgage or the property taxes to try to stay in their housing. They want to age in place, but maybe they can’t mow the lawn anymore, or they have problems taking out the trash. Or they just want someone in the home to make them feel more comfortable and less vulnerable.”

To sign up for the program, interested homeowners and homeseekers fill out profiles through the website, at which point potential matches will be made, and participants can set up meetings to get to know one another.

“The first thing to determine whether or not it's going to be a successful experience, is if people are compatible,” Fields said. “Is your cleaning style different from a person that is living with you? Is it going to bother you if you work days, and the person is working nights? Is it going to bother you if they like dogs or cats?”

From personal habits to politics, every possible sticking point should be covered. If someone feels uncomfortable, they should move on to the next available match. If both parties agree that there could be a future, HSO can do a background screen, while also encouraging participants to do their own background checks.

“Check references on both sides, job references, as well as past living references,” Fields said. “They want to make sure that the person that they're moving in with is safe. They're going to be in their home, and they're going to be vulnerable as well.”

If everything checks out, the two parties work out a lease, examples of which are provided by HSO.

“This is not your standard,’ pay the rent by the 15th every month, don’t do any damage, have a nice day’ agreement,” Fields said. “You can customize it, because at the end of the day, it's up to the two individuals if they want to enter into this business partnership together.”

The agreements are allowed to be hyper-specific.

“Are we going to share dishes, are we not going to share dishes? How are we going to deal with guests in the house?” asked Fields. “Are we going to cook dinner together and eat together? What are we looking for at this experience? Let's be thoughtful, let's be intentional about the kind of living experience we want.”

Another point to solidify is how conflicts will be resolved.

“We're human beings, and at some point we're going to have a disagreement,” Fields said. “Are we going to text message about those disagreements? Are we going to email, sit down and have a conversation?”

For payments, some stick with traditional flat monthly rental fees, while others reduce rents in exchange for housework, such as general repairs and simple upkeep. As for leases, Fields also suggested that people start with a 30-day lease, with the possibility of signing a longer lease after the honeymoon period.

“Do you marry every single person you’ve dated? You got to try things on,” Fields said. “Get a feel for it, and see if it's something you really want to engage in. And then we also encourage people to put within their agreements that if anything does go wrong, then there's a 30 day notice.”

While Fields reports that the majority of HSO matches work out, there are times when it doesn’t.

“It doesn’t always have to be some horrific horrible thing like, ‘This person broke into my bedroom and stole all my jewelry.’ That’s wildly rare,” she said. “Usually it’s just more like, ‘I can’t stand this person.’”

While HSO provides referrals for mediation services, they don’t have attorneys on staff that will help with situations, such as tenants refusing to leave a home after their first 30 days. However, Fields stressed the importance of following all the suggested procedures before it gets to that point.

“They skipped steps — they were in too much of a hurry and didn't build in enough time to do the process in a way that could have prevented some of the discomforts. 'I just thought everything was gonna be fine, I'm an optimist' — but this is a big decision,” she said.

Fields does report the vast majority of participants have positive experiences. In one case, a man in his late 60’s who was still working developed prostate cancer, became behind economically because of it, and was having a challenge making his mortgage.

“And he was really lonely,” Fields said. “He just matched up with a 71-year-old woman who was very shy and was having to couch surf — she got evicted from her apartment because they raised the rent and she didn't have enough Social Security income. … She said, ‘It’s like a key fitting into a lock.’ It’s just worked out so well for them.”

According to Fields, HSO recently helped with legislation that will be introduced in the Oregon legislature in 2023 that could give state income tax breaks for homesharers who rent out a space for less than $1,000 a month for three months or longer.

“If we're going to be providing tax credits to developers to build homes, and we're going to be providing millions and millions and millions of tax incentives to people to keep building more infrastructure, then we should be able to provide some sort of an incentive for homeowners who are willing to provide housing,” she said.

With those incentives, Fields hopes the program can grow.

“There's 1.5 million owner occupied homes across the state of Oregon that have a spare bedroom available, and one out of every three Oregonians are mortgage burdened,” said Fields. “If just two percent of those homeowners across the state of Oregon rent out a spare bedroom, we can house 30,000 people affordably, and probably keep 30,000 people in their homes.”

To learn more information about HSO, or sign up for homeshare, visit homeshareoregon.org. For questions, email [email protected], or call 503-515-2397.