According to AARP, 75 percent of aging Americans want to stay in their homes, the great majority of which are suburban detached houses. According to Jane Gould, quoted in "It won’t be pretty when boomers lose their cars," 70 percent of baby boomers live in areas served by limited or no public transit. We are rapidly approaching a point where we are going to have a lot of people living alone in big houses that they are having trouble maintaining, and having more trouble going shopping and staying connected to the community.

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In many cities, we also have a generation of young people starting out in life who cannot find affordable housing and are crammed into shared apartments, if they are lucky.

That’s why a Boulder, Colorado, startup called Silvernest is so interesting. It’s designed to connect seniors and older boomers who have extra space with people, probably young people, who desperately need a bit of space. From their press release:

“At Silvernest, we’re offering a clear solution to help Baby Boomers and empty nesters safely and seamlessly establish homesharing arrangements,” said Wendi Burkhardt, co-founder and CEO of Silvernest. “Silvernest set out to develop new tools that provide an aging-in-place alternative, boldly breaking the rules of aging so more people can live in their homes on their own terms. We’re eager to create the next generation of roommates.”

Roommates and sharing are terms that sound lovely, but let’s get real: What it does is provide a framework that finds tenants for empty rooms with careful screening, rent management (you don’t want to be bugging your “roommate”), setup and storage to make room for the new tenant, and other services that reduce the worry about renting to strangers. Which, if you have ever sublet, is a challenge. Silvernest wants to take the worry out of it. “Like the look of your matches? This is when you get to interview your favourites. You indicate whom you want to interview and arrange it all through Silvernest. Want more tips? We’re at your service.” Or as Boulderopolis, a startup journal, explains:

Silvernest charges a one-time fee that ranges from $99 to $349 based on the level of service. Services include listing available property on the Silvernest website, background screening on renters, an algorithmic matching of compatible roommates, digitally executed leases and optional automatic bank transfers for rental payments. Once a group of compatible roommates has been identified, the homeowner can choose which ones to interview and which to ultimately rent a room.

It’s very clever and pushing all the right buttons. When you read the testimonials you see a divorcee who made new connections, a widower who feels the house is alive again, and a couple who write, “Knowing who to trust can be tricky, especially in this day in age, but with Silvernest’s matching service and background screening, we found the perfect person for our spare room.” Or as Betsy notes, “Getting out and staying young is so much easier when you have company!”

silvernestHappy people sharing spaces. (Photo: Silvernest)
There are definitely some questions. Many of these houses are in parts of town where young people don’t particularly want to live, far from transit and the places they want to hang out it. There is a reason they all left in the first place. But then there is probably a much larger market of like-minded baby boomers and younger seniors who just would rather share, and live like the Golden Girls, sharing a house instead of living alone. Silvernest might just make it easier and safer for them all to connect.

There is a lot to love about this. Silvernest recognizes that baby boomers get computers and are happy to use an online service, but are not so comfortable that they are going to just swipe right. It addresses a serious problem, the growing number of aging boomers and seniors living alone in houses bigger than they need, the huge number of young people looking for a roof over their heads, and ultimately the fact that there are resources that can be shared to the benefit of all.

A decade ago I wandered about my mother’s three-bedroom apartment and noted that she could have her two best friends, who also had big apartments, move in and they could all share stories and play bridge and cook and have a good time. She looked at me like I was nuts, that she wanted her own space and she couldn’t possibly share any of it. Now, at 97, I must say she looks awfully small and lonely in it. This is a mistake that the baby boomer generation shouldn’t repeat.

Silvernest is on to something here. They are starting in Denver but I hope they expand fast. Hey, I want the Canadian rights.

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.

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