Diane and Gary have been sharing their house since the 1980s, when they bought a 3,000-square-foot home in Boise, Idaho. They’ve lived with dozens of people over the years! And now, knowing how well shared housing has worked for them, they are looking to create a homeshare program in Boise.
Gary’s Prior Experience
Gary started with shared housing some 40-50 years ago (!), when he lived with his wife and their three children, and two other couples and their kids, plus a single guy, in a thirteen-room Victorian mansion in Philadelphia. He was an alternative educator and involved in the peace movement. At one point he met the people of Hog Farm, which changed his life. It led to outfitting a bus and traveling with twelve people – five children, and seven adults. They headed west after a sojourn in New England and lived on the bus for two years. “I’d lived with people all my life, from family to prep school to college, so it seemed like a natural thing,” Gary says. “You can set your own terms with what you’re comfortable with. Defining your own space is important, and you have to make sure everyone’s expectations are understood.”
A 3,000-square foot house is pretty big for two people. Within a month of moving in, Gary and Diane welcomed a young geek who needed a place for a few weeks while setting up a computer system for the Idaho Rural Council. Soon two recent graduates of Evergreen College became housemates, staying for several years. Like many of their housemates, these two remained in Boise, contributing to the community they all love. It is clear that Diane and Gary homeshare to help others, because they can.
Diane says, “Early on, most of our housemates were journalists or community organizers, since we were employed in that sphere. Sometimes we had journalists saying with us when the state legislature was in session. We are a mile from the Idaho Statehouse. We’re also just half a mile from a regional medical center, so for several years we housed young doctors in Boise for their family practice medicine residency. They were an amazing a group of people, smart, dedicated and hard-working.” (Another homesharer has medical people. )
Some housemates have been differently abled. One was a young paraplegic woman who lost her legs in a fire when she was a child in Peru. She was self-sufficient, had wheelchairs upstairs and down, and drove a car. She left to live closer to family in Utah when she decided she wanted to become a mother. One housemate was born without hearing. Others hear very well: Several musicians have lived with them, including a professional flautist and bird-watcher who gave them a concert in their living room when his brother, a cellist, came to visit.
Some Home-Mates Give Their Time Instead of Paying Rent
Diane says, “One woman who moved in taught me a lot. She was pregnant, unmarried, needed a place to stay, and didn’t have any money, so her job was to clean. After she had her baby, I was around the baby for nine months. I had never had children–never wanted children–and all of a sudden there is this baby here and, oh my goodness, now I understand! My hormones started working just having the baby in the house. Gary helped her a lot, taught her how to parent. He would hold the baby and walk around with the baby. Nine months after the baby was born she moved out for a new relationship. You learn something unique from everybody you live with.”
When asked how they figure out what to charge for rent, they say “What the traffic will bear. We ask what they can afford, usually with $400 a month as a base. We paid off our house years ago, and though our property taxes now are almost what we used to pay for our mortgage, we can manage. We get enough rent to cover utilities and such.”
They currently have three housemates. Two brothers who are Iraqi refugees and David. The first brother moved in two years ago. Last year, he asked if his younger brother could join them. Gary and Diane hesitated a bit but agreed, raising the room rent for the two from $300 to $350. The “boys,” as they call them, are in their young twenties and are very busy going to school and working, so Diane and Gary rarely see them. David moved in six months ago. He had been living in Italy for 10 years, providing tours of the Chianti region to English speakers. That business collapsed due to COVID and he moved back to Boise, where he had lived in the 1980s.
How They Find and Vet Housemates
People find them through word-of-mouth. Diane and Gary have been in Boise since 1978 and have an extensive network– everyone knows they share housing. For instance, David found them through a common friend; one of the Iraqi brothers had lived with a BSU geology professor and his wife, who had referred a colleague from Beijing, China, to Diane and Gary the year before.
When asked if they have a selection process, they say, “Not really. We go by intuition, and by now we have a feel for how this all works.” Diane tells the story of interviewing Jim and showing him around the grounds he would care for as his rent. “The way he reached down and touched a new tree, I could see how much he loved it.” That person ended up living with them for five years, earning an associate’s degree in horticulture and paying his rent by improving their grounds and installing a productive orchard. He’s moved out now but continues to work for them.
They do have a probation period of six weeks. Only twice have they had to impose it and tell a person that it wasn’t working. One was a housemate who didn’t like crumbs on the kitchen counter, but as Diane says, “Gary bakes bread. We have crumbs on the counter.” So they had different standards. (This can be avoided by following our process, taught in Sharing Housing 101.) The other was a single mom who needed housing because she was leaving her husband but couldn’t bring her kids. Diane and Gary found that she needed more emotional support than they could provide. As Diane says, “It’s important to put it out there that it might not work out.”
The Physical Setup
The house has two floors (it’s in the picture behind Gary’s head), with the downstairs floor a “daylight basement.” On that floor, which has a private entrance, is a one-bedroom suite (bedroom, a large closet and half-bathroom), as well as storage space and Gary’s office. That’s the room the boys share.
David lives upstairs, where there’s a kitchen, dining room/living room, two bathrooms and four bedrooms, one of which is Diane’s office.
Diane says, “We also have three refrigerators, one in the kitchen and two on the ground floor. One refrigerator is entirely for the renters and there’s also shelf space for their food. We all keep our food separate.”
When asked about routines, they say, “For the most part, people who live here are very busy doing what they do. We have independent lives. Gary and I are retired; we don’t have set routines either. So all of us live our own lives, separately and together. We have enough space and privacy that we can function pretty well without running into each other. Sometimes we share meals. If David is home and around when we’re making dinner, he’ll come in and have dinner with us, then clean up. The boys have a different schedule — we hardly ever see them, and they cook in the middle of the night. It’s just worked out that way. Everyone has access to the kitchen.”
Other Areas of Living Together
Diane and Gary, ages 75 and 81, respectively, are in good health and don’t expect much help with tasks around the house, although housemates are always encouraged to help with snow shoveling. They don’t have any rules about home-mates’ guests. One housemate gave a party for 100 people (with their permission), another had a friend visit for a week, another had a girlfriend who moved in and brought her boa constrictor with her (it lived in a glass cage and only got out once or twice). Of course, the pandemic meant no guests at all. But COVID did create a bump in the road with the boys. Gary says, “We had to draft a written agreement that they would wear masks and get vaccinated or would have to move out.”
Future of Home Sharing
Diane and Gary know that it is an amazingly varied and positive experience to get to know people by living with them. When Boise’s population zoomed in 2021, they decided to promote intentional intergenerational homesharing as one solution. By getting the word out, they hope others can choose to experience benefits like those they’ve had.
“Homesharing is the smartest, fastest, cheapest way to increase affordable housing at a time when our valley’s population is the fastest-growing in the nation,” Diane says. “It works for all parties in myriad ways. The pioneering work Annamarie Pluhar has done gives people the tools they need to work with to make housesharing a win-win for everyone.”