A house-sharing program is spreading its wings in Sebastopol, aiming to help seniors thrive by matching them with house­mates.

After the October firestorms left many people without homes, hundreds of Sebastopol area residents rushed to offer their spare bedrooms to fire victims.

With no one in place to facilitate this action, Sebastopol council­member Una Glass reached out to Amy Appleton, executive director of SHARE Sonoma County for help.

“I called her up and said, ‘Hey Amy, you’ve been doing this for seniors in Petaluma. Can you try to put this together for the fire situation?’” Glass said. “She jumped right on it.” Out of that phone call, the SHAREfire program was born.

Glass said SHAREfire worked so well, she wanted to extend the house-sharing program to help provide more housing in Sebastopol. In January, the city gave the newly formed SHARE Sebastopol $5,000 to work on homeshares in the city of Sebastopol. In September, the organization began offering appointments at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center for seniors interested in sharing their home.

During the Sept. 4 Sebastopol City Council meeting, Appleton said “Sebastopol is one of the several communities that is aging more so than other communities throughout Sonoma County.”

Appleton is putting out a call for Sebastopol and west county seniors, 60 and older, who own their homes, to consider doing a home share. She is particularly interested in talking with seniors who are open to taking house­mates who qualify for Section 8, or low-income housing vouchers, which, according to Appleton, are now paying an astounding $1,000 per room.

The rewards of homesharing are more than just financial, however. According to Appleton, homesharing doesn’t only help seniors stay in their own homes longer as they age, it actually keeps them healthier. SHARE Sonoma has been collecting data on seniors, and she said studies can now prove that the health of seniors in home share situations improves.

“We want people to stay in their homes, age in place and actually improve,” Appleton said.

In addition to reaching out to seniors in Sebastopol, the organization is also broadening its focus to promote matches for those with special needs.

Appleton said, since its inception, SHARE has created 25 home shares in Sebastopol — not including those related to the October fires. Nineteen of those are still happening.

Indigo Perry started working at SHARE Sonoma in August. She said she’d seen the program lift off and really wanted to be a part of the good work Appleton was doing.

“I was thrilled when she offered to hire me,” Perry said. “I jumped at it.”

Perry will be taking appointments at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, 167 N. High St., on the second and fourth Mondays of the month, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. She’ll be talking to seniors about the program and helping them fill out the application.

There are five types of home sharing available through the SHARE program:

  • Rent exchange: For those in need of affordable housing, SHARE will match home providers with home seekers. Room rentals average from $400 to $1,500 per month, including utility costs.
  • Service exchange: Home seekers are matched with home providers who need clearly defined services like companionship, meal preparation, transportation to appointments, housekeeping or yard work. No rent is exchanged. Some utility payment might be required.
  • Partial rent and service exchange: The home seeker is responsible for paying some rent and performing a few carefully defined services for the home provider. Average rent is $300 per month, which includes the cost of utilities.
  • Community houses: A house is provided to SHARE by homeowners who do not live in the home, enabling SHARE to manage each room. Tenants sign a lease agreement with the homeowner.
  • Emergency housing: Housing is available for temporary and long-term placements for those displaced by emergencies caused by natural disasters such as wild fires.

SHARE Sonoma County is a 501(C)3 nonprofit organization that started in 2014 and found funding in 2015 with a seed grant from the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. For the past three years, the organization has operated out of Petaluma People’s Services. During this time, the organization has created more than 354 homeshares all over Sonoma County.

For more information about the SHARE Sonoma County homesharing program, please call 707-766-8800, email info@share sonomacounty.org, or visit sharesonomacounty.org.

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