SHIFT is our acronym for “Shared Housing Incentives for Taking Action.” It’s our new pilot program. SHIFT is based on our observation that it’s difficult for homeowners to take the risk of opening their homes to another person (people).
The reticence is understandable. One’s home is one’s castle. Home is a place where one feels safety and comfort. Making change is difficult. Moving is one of life’s great stressors. There are so many ways that a person—especially the homeowner—simply assumes that they should live alone if they aren’t with family or in a relationship.
As I have worked on advocating for shared housing, I’ve noticed that people say “Oh what a great idea!” But they mean it’s for someone else, not for them.
It takes work to make change. It takes believing your life will be better after the change. It requires envisioning a good, comfortable life living with others. Sadly, more people are fearful of being stuck with a bad housemate than are able to see how a housemate can improve one’s life.
Occasionally we get emails from individuals who are looking for shared housing and have only weeks before they are going to be unhoused. How did they get to that place? By refusing to recognize the problem until the situation became an emergency. Denial is a common human trait. We are so good at it. We deny we have an issue with money. We deny that we are lonely. We deny we are unhealthy. We deny we are aging. We deny until we can’t anymore, and then we find ourselves in crisis.
SHIFT is our effort to help people see their way into shared housing while everything is good; while the homeowner has time to learn how to share their home in the future and how to conduct a personal housemate search to ensure a good fit.
What is SHIFT?
SHIFT offers money, specifically a $500 reimbursement, to homeowners in Windham and Windsor counties in Vermont. It can be used to help cover costs incurred in making their home more comfortable to share. We’ve noticed that people use excuses such as: “I have to clean out a room,” or “my house is too dirty” as barriers to taking action. We’ve also seen homes where moving a wall or adding a door would create a better space for shared housing.
The first phase of SHIFT is Learning. Once participants in the program register on our website they have access to our two mini-courses, 5 Key Benefits of Shared Housing and Sharing Housing 101. They can learn why to share housing and how to select a housemate. (Anyone else can also take these courses – the first one is free, the latter has a small cost.) SHIFT participants who complete the two courses are then entitled to a free home consultation about how they can adapt their home for sharing. They will then be equipped to do their own work, get their home ready for sharing and find their own housemate.
Many people look for matching services. It is our belief that adults who have managed so much of their lives can also manage their own housemate search once they know how to find and interview potential housemates. By taking on the active role of figuring out who they are and what they are looking for, they gain in personal agency and use their independence. No one can tell another person whom they are going to like and respect. We are prepared to be supportive, whether that’s reviewing a housemate search announcement, or being a sounding board to a homeowner who is uncertain about a potential housemate. This is a pilot program and we will learn as we go what kinds of support are useful.
Once the homeowner has found a housemate and made their home comfortable for sharing, they will develop an agreement with their housemate. When it’s been signed, Sharing Housing will witness that agreement. At that point, we’ll reimburse the promised $500, and we’ll continue to support the home share arrangement. We’ll check in one week after move-in day to find out how it’s going. The first week is critical to correcting any small nits before they become big issues. We will check in near the end of the trial period to help the homeowner determine whether they want to continue the home share arrangement. Assuming all is good, we will follow up at six months for program evaluation.
It is also true that in Vermont, homeowners who have housemates under an agreement witnessed by a home share agency do not have to declare their housemates income on the Vermont Homestead Declaration.
That’s it. That’s the program. Do you like it? Think it will work?