[Hpn] ASHEVILLE, NC - Odd couples share affordable living arrangements - Asheville Citzen Times - November 03, 2003

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Tue, 4 Nov 2003 13:53:26 -0500

Odd couples share affordable living arrangements

By Barbara Blake - Asheville Citzen Times - November 03, 2003

ASHEVILLE, NC - At first glance, they are wildly unlikely couples.

Betty Godfrey is an 80-year-old woman with a sharp mind and a
body bound to a wheelchair.

Roger DeWeese is a strapping man of 47, a carpenter by trade
and a whiz in the kitchen of the home they share on a tree-lined
street in West Asheville.

Leroy Huffman is an 87-year-old widower whose loneliness reached
epic proportions when his wife passed away two years ago. Julie
Book is an energetic woman of 62 who loves fly- fishing and
country living, reveling in the log cabin and 16 acres of land
she shares with Huffman in Black Mountain.

There is not a whisper of romance between these partners. But
there is companionship, friendship and trust. And, for the
younger halves of the couples, there is economic viability.

As participants in a program called HomeShare, these four are
among the first in Asheville to test a living arrangement that
has been thriving for years in other cities across the country.

Sponsored locally by the Affordable Housing Coalition, the
program matches homeowners who may be frail, wheelchair-bound or
simply lonely with "home seekers'' willing to exchange household
chores or other services for low or no rent.

Home seekers can range from college students to newcomers to
people trying to get on their feet financially.

"At this stage in my life, this is just a great thing,'' said
DeWeese, who is trying to recover financially after an accident
left him uninsured and unable to work. "I don't know if I could
ever luck up again and find this good a gift as far as getting
someone compatible to live with.''

It might seem odd that a man in his 40s would celebrate his good
fortune in having an 80-year-old woman as a housemate. But it's
working for DeWeese and for Godfrey, who says that without
DeWeese in her life, "I would be in a nursing home, no doubt
about it.''

"Those two are like peanut butter and jelly together,'' said
Pamela Brown, coordinator of Asheville's HomeShare program.
"They're pretty amazing, that match.''

Making the match

Making the right match is not an easy task, Brown said. There is
careful screening, with reference and background checks,
face-to-face meetings between parties, and intensive questioning
to determine compatibility and mutual benefit.

If the two decide to share the home, Brown will draw up a written
agreement detailing the responsibilities each party will bear and
any other issues that need to be addressed.

HomeShare will continue providing counseling and support as it is
needed. After six months, the match is considered a success, and
can continue as long as both parties wish, she said.

"I told Betty when I first moved in that we'd give it a try for six
months,'' said DeWeese, who has the second floor of the house
to himself.

"I think it was about the third month, I told her, `I'll be here
with you until the end.'"

That's not necessarily typical, said Annette Leahy Brennan,
supervisor of the HomeSharing program at St. Ambrose Housing Aid
Center in Baltimore. In the past 15 years, Homesharing has
brokered 900 matches, representing a 95 percent success rate in
putting compatible housemates together. Some of those matches
have been together 10 years or longer, but the average is about
one year, Brennan said.

"Sometimes (the home seekers) are students who need low- cost
housing for a year or two, and then they move on,'' she said.

"For the older homeowner, that provides someone in the house for
company, and it takes away that awful void of loneliness that
nothing else but another person can really do.''

In Black Mountain, Book, a retired human resource professional,
said the match with Huffman is working well. But while
home-sharing is a wonderful solution for some, it's not for

"You have to be a little bit flexible; living with someone else
takes some adjustment, especially if you've been by yourself a
long time. And living with an older person, you have to
understand some things, like the TV might be kind of loud.''
Endless possibilities

But the benefits outweigh the difficulties, Book said. For the
older person, sharing a home and having a little extra help might
mean being able to live independently for much longer. It also
can help to have a small amount of income from the rental

"It brings a lot of intergenerational sharing, and it brings life
into their home,'' Book said. "And for me, I get a good rental
rate, I'm able to live on 16 acres of land in a log cabin, with
my own door to come in and out and my own bedroom with a
bathroom. And we have our defined chores: He feeds the animals,
and I feed him.''

Brown said the only requirement for participation in HomeShare is
that one person in each match be at least 55 years old, and one
must meet income guidelines. A nominal fee to HomeShare is
requested, but no one will be denied service for inability to

"The possibilities (for matches) are endless,'' Brown said.
"You're serving two different populations, and everybody wins if
it's a good match.''

The most difficult part is getting homeowners and their families
to buy into the concept that, with a good match, the older person
can get help with the house, feel more secure and enjoy
independent living.

"There's a lot of housing sitting empty in people's homes,''
Brown said. "If only people could know about this and feel good
about it, it could help so many people.''

Contact Blake at 232-6020 or BBlake@CITIZEN-TIMES.com
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