Home-Sharing Plan for Elderly Gets Fast Response

Times Staff Writer

Even though utility bills and taxes are pinching her budget and her children are all grown and living on their own, Anita Turilli does not want to move from her four-bedroom home in north Glendale. It is, after all, her home and her main asset.

Turilli, who is 70 years old and has been divorced for many years, once advertised for a boarder, but things did not work out well with the young man who rented a room. If she were to take in boarders again, she would want to be a little more sure in advance of their habits.

So when Turilli heard that a home-sharing program for the elderly was starting in Glendale, she quickly contacted the program's supervisor, Grace Farwell.

Turilli wanted to know if Farwell could help her find two women who might want to rent rooms in the house, helping to pay for the upkeep and providing some companionship.

"I'm easy to get along with," she told Farwell when the program director came out this week to her airy, well-furnished home. "All I want is someone who will be honest with me."

One of First Participants

As it turns out, Turilli is expected to be one of the first homeowners to participate in the program, which officially begins Friday. "You are exactly the kind of person we are looking for," Farwell informed her.

Home-Sharing for the Elderly, a federally funded service under the aegis of Glendale's Division of Parks and Recreation, will try to match senior citizens who have extra space in their homes with others who may not be able to afford an apartment or house on their own. The tenants can pay monthly rent or provide services, such as cooking, cleaning or transportation, in lieu of rent. The matching itself and subsequent counseling is free.

"Home sharing can decrease financial liability for some homeowners, decrease isolation and loneliness, increase feelings of security," said Farwell, 24. "It is lonely to wake up by yourself, eat by yourself, watch television by yourself." Farwell developed the program from a class project in her master's degree program in gerontology and public administration at USC.

About 60 other home-sharing programs operate in California and several hundred operate nationwide, said Jim Tremblay, housing coordinator for the state Department of Aging. Santa Monica, San Jose and Pasadena are among the communities with successful programs.

"If nothing else, it is another option to keep people from being institutionalized," Tremblay said. "The whole aging field has oriented itself to helping people maintain themselves in their own homes."

Percentage of Older People

Glendale is considered particularly ripe for the program because the city has a relatively high percentage of people over 60--22% of the population. The state percentage is 14.8%, 16.3% for the nation, according to census figures. In addition, apartment rents in Glendale are going up, and there is no rent control. It is difficult to find a one-bedroom apartment for less than $400, which can take almost all the monthly Social Security check of a retiree.

"Housing is available in Glendale, but affordable housing is the problem," said Farwell, who used to work as a case manager for the city's senior citizen nutrition program. She pointed to the example of the subsidized senior citizen housing project under construction, the 98-unit Park Paseo on Isabel Street, which already has drawn applications from 2,000 senior citizens. "What's going to happen to all the ones that don't get in?" she asked.

The Glendale program is aimed at homeowners in the Glendale, Montrose, or La Crescenta area who are at least 60 years old. Especially targeted will be those areas in south and central Glendale, south of Mountain Street and west of Verdugo Road, where 52% of the city's low-income elderly live.

A wider net is cast for tenants, who can come from those areas or from surrounding communities such as Eagle Rock, La Canada Flintridge and Burbank. The tenants also can be younger.

"We are mainly looking for home seekers who are in their 40s or older and will cater to the older people first," Farwell said. "We will prefer a peer-to-peer match but are not going to discourage intergenerational matches."

Other home-sharing programs have reported that many elderly women request male roommates for safety and for heavy work around the house and yard. But Farwell said that most of the women applicants in Glendale so far are widows who nursed dying husbands through their final illnesses and that the last thing these women want is to have a man in the house asking for help with cooking and sewing. These women mainly want women roommates.

Men Seek Women Boarders

Men, on the other hand, seem to want women boarders. "They want someone to take care of them," she said.

Of the possibility of romance developing in any of her matches, Farwell said, "It's possible, but it's not probable."

So far, with word of mouth and some early publicity, about 30 prospective home providers and 30 home seekers have contacted Farwell.

By the end of June, when the program's initial $38,500 Community Development grant runs out, it is expected that as many as 70 matches will have been arranged. By then, program officials are expected to have applied for more federal funds through the city and for state monies earmarked for home-sharing projects.

Farwell, who is the only full-time staff member, and her two part-time assistants will be visiting homes of prospective home sharers to check building conditions and facilities. All applicants will fill out extensive questionnaires about their preferences on such matters as rent, pets, cooking, visitors, television watching, smoking, drinking, transportation, personal schedules and personal beliefs.

The staff then will try to match applications and give homeowners the telephone numbers of two or three possible tenants. "We are only a facilitator. We don't want the liability of forcing someone's hand," Farwell said. "However, we will be available if they want to facilitate introductions. And we will strongly encourage two or three meetings before reaching an agreement and even a test period of a weekend, week or a month so people can really see what each others' personality traits are."

The program will also encourage both sides to sign a written home-sharing agreement, specifying house rules and what each side expects of the other in terms of money, the use of various rooms and work. The staff will check on the arrangement from time to time and will be available to act as mediators if problems develop.

"If it is more than a squabble over who should be doing the dishes, we can refer them to other city programs such as our nutritional, recreational or health programs," Farwell said.

Tremblay said home-sharing programs have a better chance of success if they offer considerable counseling. "Let's face it, many senior citizens are used to living by themselves, and getting two people together can create problems," he said.

Home sharing, Farwell said, may not be suited for everybody, since it does involve the loss of some privacy. But, she said, "if it doesn't work out the first time, we will keep trying. It is a slow process to find the right person."

The program is also seeking volunteers who can spend eight to 10 hours a week helping with the applications and matchings.

Home-Sharing for the Elderly has its offices at the Adult Recreation Center, 201 E. Colorado Street. Its telephone number is (818) 247-1773.

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