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Friendster, Meet Oldster

When young and old become housemates, both sides win.

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Barbara Joan never thought she’d have a roommate again. A woman in her sixties whose grown sons had moved out long ago, she was content to stay with her dog in her roomy Manhattan co-op until she heard about Home Sharing. The service matches elderly “hosts” with “guests”—those are the official terms—who, in exchange for a room, share monthly expenses (from $400 to $1,200). Though Barbara Joan, a designer, worked steadily, her income fluctuated and there were times when she could’ve used help with bills. “I thought, ‘Gee, I’m away a lot, and my apartment’s large and sometimes business isn’t that great, so why not?’ ” Enter Jason, a thirtyish lawyer who’d grown tired of living with party animals. Spending “$36,000 of my after-tax income on a one-bedroom would be crazy,” he says. Now he and Barbara Joan happily share her apartment.

Linda Hoffman, president of the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, which runs the program, isn’t surprised things worked out. She says her group has been successfully pairing people since 1981, when the Home Sharing program was created to help senior citizens who want companionship, a little assistance, or the extra safety of having someone around at night. As affordable housing grows scarce, the guests get benefits, too. “You have students who have no dorm space, those who are recently separated, actors and writers with sporadic income,” Hoffman says. Margaret Chandler, a young nurse who’s home-shared for six years, says she’d never be able to live this well otherwise, and the low rent allows her to pursue her extracurricular dream of being a stand-up comic. Plus, says Angela Pont (pictured, with housemate Joan), mature roommates can be easier: “There’s no loud music or talking all night on the phone.”

Besides, what other service vets apartment-mates for free? (Both candidates go through rigorous screenings.) Home Sharing doesn’t promise a deep relationship, but roomies often grow friendly. Though they don’t socialize together much, Jason and Barbara Joan did bond over their shared affection for the Mets and The Sopranos. “There’s a family feel to it,” he says. “But there’s no one to nag you or ask you where you’re going.”


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