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WILMETTE LIFE — Feb. 27, 2003

Home sharing provides some options in housing

BY KEN GOZE
STAFF WRITER

Downturns in the economy and shifts in personal finances can force people to leave their home or community, but a 17-year-old program has helped many to hang on by sharing their homes.

The Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs works to fight housing discrimination, but the center also operates a home-sharing program in 16 suburbs along the North Shore.

The program works as a kind of match-making service bringing together people who need financial help to stay in their homes and tenants who need affordable rent.

The number of placements has held steady across the years, although the mix of applicants and their reasons for seeking help vary with the economy and other factors.

“We’re finding many women in their 50s need to offer a room in their house. A person might just be in transition — a divorce, a new job in town,” said Jaqueline Grossman, home sharing coordinator. “It can run three to four months or several years.”

Many of the situations that lead a person to a home-sharing arrangement are personal situations such as aging or loss of a spouse, but economic pressure also fuels the need.

“The people we work with are often affected by the economy and downsizing. They might lose their job and take another job earning less,” Grossman said.

The local home-sharing program makes about 50 placements a year, most involving two people. About 700 situations have been arranged since 1985.

Tenants pay from $100 to $500 a month, depending on space and the nature of the arrangement. Lower rents are often accepted with the understanding that the tenant will help with household chores or shopping.

Instead of a lease, parties agree to give each other 30 days notice before ending the arrangement. Tenants have use of kitchen and laundry areas, and sometimes other common areas. They pay for their own food and phone.

For 85-year-old Margaret Studel of Wilmette, home sharing was a way to have someone else around when her husband, John, struggled with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago.

She did not want to leave her west side home of 41 years, and after one short-lived placement, she was paired with Abe Akhiyat, a graduate student in his 30s. She views the arrangement as more of a family atmosphere as opposed to just renting a room.

“He is going on three years. He’s been a real good friend,” said Studel.

Akhiyat, who is pursuing a doctorate degree in electrical engineering at University of Illinois at Chicago, said his initial interest in homesharing was a reasonable rent. At one point he found another place closer to campus but returned to Studel’s home in August.

“The other part of it is it’s not living alone. It’s having somebody else in the home. It’s a great program,” Akhiyat said.

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