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Bay Area Seniors Stay in Homes with Roommate Seeker

Snezhanka Stefanova was in a difficult situation before meeting Jeanne Falla.

The then 20-year-old man would soon find himself without housing. Her parents planned to return to their native Bulgaria, but the recent high school graduate had lived in Contra Costa County most of her life. She wanted to start college and didn’t want to leave her friends.

“To stay here, I had to figure out how I’m going to live on my own,” said Stefanova, 21, who was juggling two part-time jobs at the time.

Enter Falla, 64, a semi-retired former federal employee who was looking to rent a room in her Walnut Creek townhouse. The two women were introduced through the nonprofit Home Match Contra Costa, chatted and decided they could be compatible roommates, despite the age and life experience gap .

Jeanne Falla, 64, left, chats with Snezhanka Stefanova, 21, at their home in Walnut Creek, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

That’s the goal of Home Match: to connect seniors, who are looking for extra income and companionship, with local workers, students and others in need of affordable housing in the area. Bay, at an astronomical price.

“I think the idea of ​​having a roommate is great,” said Falla, who said the $1,000 rent Stefanova pays each month has “helped a lot.”

For some seniors, taking in a roommate is the only way they can afford to stay in their home, said Luke Barnesmoore, chief strategic officer of Home Match, which has offices in Contra Costa, Alameda, Marin and San counties. Francisco.

Jeanne Falla, 64, of Walnut Creek, is pictured at her home in Walnut Creek, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. Jeanne Falla and Snezhanka Stefanova participate in the Home Match Contra Costa County program.  Home Match pairs older adults, whose ability to age in place is at risk due to financial hardship, with working-age youth who are at risk of being displaced from the county due to a lack of affordable housing.  (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Jeanne Falla, 64, of Walnut Creek, at her home in Walnut Creek, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

There are online sites where people can search for roommates, but Stefanova and Falla thought Home Match represented a “safer” option. The free service puts considerable work into screening clients, with criminal background checks, home visits, detailed questionnaires and interviews that make introductions based on people’s personalities, communication styles and business preferences. lifestyle.

Home Match started in the Bay Area in 2012 in Marin before expanding to other counties. It is an initiative of Front Porch, a nonprofit organization that manages more than 50 affordable and market-rate senior housing communities in California and other states.

Between 2015 and 2023, Home Match hosted 371 games across the four Bay Area counties, with most tenants signing month-to-month leases. The organization is seeking $5,000 from the East Bay Times’ Share the Spirit Holiday campaign, which highlights organizations that help support vulnerable people. communities oneand individuals. The funds will make it possible to organize 15 home matches for 30 people.

Snezhanka Stefanova, 21, of Walnut Creek, is pictured at her home in Walnut Creek, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. Jeanne Falla and Snezhanka Stefanova participate in the Home Match Contra Costa County program.  Home Match pairs older adults, whose ability to age in place is at risk due to financial hardship, with working-age youth who are at risk of being displaced from the county due to a lack of affordable housing.  (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Snezhanka Stefanova, 21, of Walnut Creek, at her home in Walnut Creek, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

The average age of Home Match service providers is 72 years old. About a quarter of them have at least one disability, or have mobility issues or fall risks that make living alone difficult, Barnesmoore said. In such cases, a housing provider may opt for a “duty swap,” in which the roommate helps with household chores or errands in exchange for reduced rent.

“This can address issues of social isolation, allowing care providers to age in place,” Barnesmoore said.

The average age of housing seekers is 53, and they include seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, as well as teachers, restaurant workers, people in minimum wage jobs, and students .

Before Falla signed up for Home Match, her friends were wary of her getting a roommate. But Falla persisted, in part because she thought it would be “a good thing to do for the community.” She also appreciated the rigor of the questionnaire.

Jeanne Falla, 64, left, both of Walnut Creek, prepares dinner with Snezhanka Stefanova, 21, at their home in Walnut Creek, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. Falla and Stefanova participate in the Contra Costa home game Departmental program.  Home Match pairs older adults, whose ability to age in place is at risk due to financial hardship, with working-age youth who are at risk of being displaced from the county due to a lack of affordable housing.  (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Jeanne Falla, 64, left, prepares dinner with Snezhanka Stefanova, 21, at their home in Walnut Creek, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. Falla and Stefanova are participating in the Home Match Contra Costa County program. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

He asked the obvious questions: smoker or not, does the roommate need his own bathroom, are pets allowed? But the study also tried to highlight issues that help determine more precisely whether two people are compatible: How do they feel about sharing food or kitchen utensils or playing music? Are certain items prohibited? Is it OK to have overnight guests? What about housekeeping or expectations about eating meals together? What temperature is usually maintained in the house?

Falla realized that cleanliness was very important to her; she couldn’t stand it when a roommate left dishes in the sink. But Stevanova is only 20 years old? It wasn’t a problem, as she told the young woman when she called him last December for a meeting.

“I was open to it,” Falla said. “Intergenerational living has advantages. »

For her part, Stefanova, who has been 21 years old, needed a roommate who would not monitor her comings and goings, as her parents did. She also loved Falla’s colorful and cozy decor, including the smiling pillow on a living room chair.

“It gave me good vibes,” Stefanova said.

Stefanova was particularly excited to move into Falla’s unfurnished second bedroom, which she could decorate herself. “I never grew up with the room I wanted,” she said. After signing their “Living Together Agreement” in mid-January, Falla invited Stefanova’s parents to dinner before they returned to Bulgaria, which helped them “feel better.”

Both women appreciated that Home Match offered mediation services in the event of conflicts, which did not happen in their case. Barnesmoore said only about 5% of their matches since April 2022 have ended when both sides realized they weren’t a good fit.

Falla and Stefanova didn’t become best friends who cook meals and watch TV together. But they get along well because they live independent lives and can see this arrangement continuing. Logan Robertson, managing partner of Home Match Contra Costa, said some clients end up becoming “like family.”

Sometimes Stefanova, who works at a car rental agency, talks to Falla about her work and enjoys hearing her ideas.

“It’s nice to have someone with more experience to talk to,” she said.

“I’m just trying to be helpful,” Falla said.


Share the Spirit
The Share the Spirit holiday campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, provides relief, hope and opportunity to East Bay residents by helping raise funds for nonprofit programs in counties Alameda and Contra Costa.

How to help
Donations will help Home Match stabilize the housing situation for 30 or more people in Contra Costa and Alameda counties by establishing 15 new compatible matches. Goal: $5,000

How to give
Go to www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate or print and mail this form.

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