Omira was hesitant about bringing someone into her Monterey Peninsula home of 25 years, where she’d lived alone since her mother passed away. “I like to have my privacy,” she says. Covid-19 was also a concern. But as a senior on a fixed income, the financial pressures became much greater than worries over privacy or a pandemic. She turned to a new free service on the Monterey Peninsula called Home Match and on Jan. 1, she welcomed Marianne, another senior woman, into her three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom home.
“It was wonderful,” Omira says, remembering how she felt on move-in day. (Out of privacy concerns, the women asked to be identified by first names only.) For Marianne, who found the housing search as a senior with a disability during a pandemic more difficult than expected, it was a “tremendous relief.” A few weeks in, the women both say the roommate situation is going well. “Omira is a very kind, thoughtful person so I feel fortunate about this match,” Marianne says. The feeling is mutual: “Marianne is a wonderful person, a good human being and I’m very happy with her,” says Omira.
The success of their match is no accident. Home Match, a service of a nonprofit called Covia, screens all of its applicants, both “home providers” – either a homeowner or a renter with permission to have roommates – and home seekers. Applicants fill out detailed surveys that cover “living preferences,” like cleaning style, whether they’ll share meals, alcohol and cannabis use, and how loudly they listen to the TV. Covia staff pore over applications to find potential roommate matches. They also perform background checks.
“Once it looks like it might be a good fit we go to both parties, give a description – with no personal information – and just ask if they’d like to be introduced,” says Doris Beckman, program manager for Home Match Monterey County. “If they are, we set up a Zoom call, and they are introduced and get to talk to each other and kind of see if they hit it off.” Before moving in together, they sign a 17-page living agreement.
Covia, a senior housing nonprofit based in Walnut Creek, started Home Match as a pilot program in Marin County in 2012 matching seniors with empty bedrooms they were willing to rent out to other seniors who needed an affordable place to live. The program now offers the service to all adults in four Bay Area counties, adding Monterey County last fall. It launched here thanks to about four years of work by Beckman, a Marina resident who attempted to create her own home-matching service after her husband died. She then worked with other local housing advocates to persuade Covia to open here.
In 2020, Home Match created 242 affordable homes for 468 people, according to a Covia report. The matches benefit both the home provider – whose rent, mortgage or living expenses become more affordable – and the one seeking a place to live, who pays lower rent (which Home Match calls a “fee”) than the market rate. Rooms range between $700 to $1,300/month depending on the region. Eligible participants must earn no more than 120 percent of the area median income, which for one person in the county means $68,222. Most participants in all five counties earn less than half that.
Covia estimates that local governments save approximately $765,000 per home created, the approximate cost of a new unit of affordable housing in the counties it serves. It also creates stability in the lives of those participating: Many reported being either previously homeless (28 percent) or at risk of becoming homeless (27 percent).
It created stability for Marianne, who says she had no place to go after surgery and an extended stay in a rehabilitation center. A physical therapist at the center referred her to the service.