Today, an unprecedented and long-term housing crisis looms, with an estimated 40 million Americans at risk of eviction, many of whom lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2017, nearly half of renters have spent 30 percent or more of their incomes on housing costs—an unsustainable portion, according to The US Department of Housing and Urban Development. This rental housing crisis disproportionately affects people of color, in part due to systemic racism in the mortgage industry, as well as younger generations whose homeownership rates have plummeted far below that of their parents' generation.

At the same time, an astounding 54 million spare bedrooms sit empty every night. Many of these spare bedrooms are located in the homes of older Americans, with millions more expected over the coming years. In fact, by 2035, one-third of all households in the United States are projected to be headed by someone age 65 or older, and more than half of these will be single-person households. Research shows that the vast majority of men and women over 50 want to stay in their current homes and communities as they age. Yet many face steep barriers to doing so, including insufficient fixed incomes and retirement savings, rising home maintenance costs and property taxes, and the debilitating health effects of loneliness and social isolation.

And so, we have two problems: Large numbers of renters—including many young, low-wage workers and students—are having a hard time finding affordable places to live, while growing numbers of older adults with space in their homes need extra income and companionship. One solution tackles both: intergenerational home-sharing.

Throughout US history, urban newcomers, including young and unmarried workers, commonly lived with older couples or widows. Scholars estimate that in the late 19th century as many as half of all urban Americans spent time as boarders living in others' apartments and homes. But at the start of the 20th century, concerns about overcrowding sparked public health campaigns that virtually eliminated this popular, low-cost housing solution.

With metropolitan areas in the United States and other countries now facing severe affordable housing shortages and older adults becoming the fastest growing population in many cities, there's renewed interest in multigenerational living. Some older adults are rejecting the idea of retirement communities and opting for co-living arrangements with housemates of varied ages. Meanwhile, some nursing or assisted living homes in areas like Ohio, California, Finland, and the Netherlands are opening up rooms to millennials willing to offer companionship to older residents in exchange for low rents.

While no one approach can perfectly solve the challenges presented by the confluence of a rapidly aging society and the housing crisis, intergenerational home-sharing models offer communities an innovative, flexible way forward. With an astute approach to scaling and reverent use of technology, home-sharing can help young people access affordable housing near jobs and opportunities, and ensure that our parents and grandparents age with choice and dignity. Indeed, it can help create a world where housing security isn't just for the privileged, it's for everyone.

Read the full article about intergenerational home-sharing by Noelle Marcus at Stanford Social Innovation Review.