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Social Security: To Stretch Benefits, Some Turn To ‘The Golden Girls’ For Solutions

Looking for a roommate situation has become a viable option to help stretch out the monthly Social Security check.

When Bonnie Moore and her husband bought an old house in Maryland in suburban Washington, DC, she thought it would be their retirement home. They undertook an expensive remodel and while only halfway through it in 2008, the couple decided to split up. It wasn’t a contingency Bonnie, an accountant and lawyer, had planned for as she approached retirement. At the same time, the Great Recession hit and the housing market took a tumble. Moore lost her equity, and if she wanted to afford her mortgage, she needed roommates to fill her four empty bedrooms.

Moore’s version of the hit TV show The Golden Girls from the late 1980s and early 1990s was born. She has three roommates now and earns between $700 and $850 a month from each, and the rental income has allowed her to keep her home.

Three years ago, Moore says she kept getting questions from people what it’s like to have a house full of women roommates and how could they rent out rooms or find a place to live. She bought the domain name www.goldengirlsnetwork and this month is launching the site to hook up homeowners with prospective roommates around the country.

The idea of older adults living together as roommates is a very practical solution to some of the issues that people have, Moore says. There’s the financial issue because a lot of people can’t afford to live by themselves anymore and the need people have for companionship.

The cost of renting or owning a home has gone up so much that a single person may not be able to afford it on their salary, she says. In suburban, Washington, DC, it costs $1,500 to $2,000 a month for a decent apartment, and that’s too much money when you can go live in a very nice house and pay $800 for a room, Moore says.

“The recession has hurt a lot of people who are now looking at retirement,” Moore says. “We lost the equity in our homes. We lost a lot of value in our 401(k) plans and some of us lost our jobs or had to downsize in terms of jobs. Another major factor is there’s an epidemic of middle-age divorce. People are staying together for the sake of the kids and as soon as the kids grow up, they split up. You have a lot of people who are suddenly finding themselves single when they weren’t expecting to be.”

Moore, the founder and president of her company, found her roommates on Craigslist.com. Her site will charge people $39 for three months of service. People register as a homeowner or as someone looking for a place to live. You search and find someone, you connect and interview, and you decide whether you want them in your home. Men and women are included on the site because some prefer to have co-ed roommates, and it’s open to those 40 and above, she says.

“It operates a lot like Match.com,” Moore says. “I register that I have a house and am looking for a roommate, and I can search everybody who has registered in Maryland that they are looking for a place to live. If I see someone who has the criteria I am looking for—a certain age group, female, no pets, no smoking—and they want to live in this area, I would be able to send them an e-mail and say I have a room available and ask if they’re interested. Then they can come over and I can interview them and go from there.”

Moore, 69, who retired as a management consultant for a CPA firm, says the room renting continues to work for her. She went from four roommates in the beginning to three today because she wanted one room as her office. People come and go. Some stay a long time and others end up being short term because it doesn’t work out, she says. It works for her and will for others, she says.

“I think it’s going to explode because it makes sense,” Moore says. “For instance, you take a woman retiring at the age of 65, 66 or 67 and her salary hasn’t been all that great. Maybe she’s getting $1,200 a month in Social Security and maybe she has a little bit of 401(k) but not every much. She’s looking at the reality of trying to live comfortably for the next 20 years. It’s a bad situation for her if she’s trying to live an apartment by herself or maintaining a home. She can move in with somebody in a nice house and pay $600 or $700 a month and can get along or she can get roommates and that helps her maintain a house.”

Moore says The Golden Girls television show of four older women living in Miami was a bit ahead of its time in terms of older Americans living together.

“Historically, people have lived with their family or their children come and take care of them,” Moore says. “Family takes care of the elderly people, but you have so many baby boomers now and children are far away and children don’t have room for mom anymore. Besides, mom wants to stay in her house. My son lives in Utah and daughter lives in California. I don’t want to move there to live with them. I love my house and want to stay here.”

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