Peninsula residents finding rent relief with home sharing program 

click to enlarge Debra Smith | Laura Moya
  • Courtesy photo
  • Mid County Home Sharing Coordinator, Debra Smith, left, and Laura Moya, the Home Sharing Program Assistant, discuss a client's application to the program.

Some Peninsula residents affected by the Bay Area's housing crunch say they are finding solutions thanks to a local nonprofit's home-sharing program. San Mateo-based HIP Housing, which works to help disadvantaged people live independent, self-sufficient lives, uses careful screening to help people reduce housing costs by finding compatible housemates.

Associate Director Laura Fanucchi said participants who have homes and are seeking housemates are referred to as "home providers." She explained that many participants are seniors who have limited incomes, but are considered "house rich," in that they own a home. However, she added, some home providers are renters.

Fanucchi said in some cases, clients who are "home seekers" provide services, such as cooking or cleaning, in exchange for reduced rent.

The screening process for the home-sharing program includes criminal and sex offender background checks and a questionnaire, as well as interviews.

When working with seniors, Fanucchi said her organization prefers to have "advocates" involved in the process who may include family members or social workers. In cases where seniors are paired with housemates, HIP Housing representatives follow up with the clients every three months on how the program is going, Fanucchi said.

According to Fanucchi, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the county is $2,095, but program clients usually pay an average rent of $650 per month after being paired with home providers.

Home seekers in the area usually spend 35-40 percent of their income on housing, but after being matched with home providers, they can wind up paying an average of about 27 percent of their income toward rent, she noted.

For home providers, the savings can be even more dramatic. Fanucchi said home providers are typically devoting half their incomes to housing costs before getting involved in the program, but when paired with housemates, they can cut housing costs to about 25 percent of their income.

Seniors aren't the only people benefiting from the program. One example Fanucchi cited was a former foster youth referred by StarVista, a nonprofit that helps foster youths transition into adulthood.

The client lost her shared apartment when the building she'd been living in was sold and the new owner began a major renovation. But Fanucchi said the client was successfully matched with a home provider and received a one-year rent subsidy from StarVista.

Another client is 81-year-old Don Belaief, a retired salesman who once sold DeLorean sports cars. Belaief, who said the program enabled him to keep his two-bedroom apartment, was matched with his current housemate six months ago and noted the arrangement has worked out "wonderfully."

California native Cathy Leikin, 59, said she was living in Ohio when she suffered a stroke and became disabled. She said she later returned to California because Ohio lacked adequate services for her condition.

"In Ohio there's no help for people like me," Leikin said. "In San Mateo County, there's help. Wonderful help."

Leikin was matched with home provider Joan, who said HIP Housing has matched her with three housemates over the years, all of whom have been "terrific." Joan -- who preferred to use only her first name -- said she's on a fixed income, and the program has made a big difference for her finances.

"It makes it so I'm able to breathe financially," she said, "I'm able to go out and buy ice cream if I want to."

Mirela Massad is a revenue integrity analyst at Sequoia Hospital and a single mother. She said she wouldn't feel safe finding a housemate on Craigslist, but she's been a HIP Housing client for 10 years and every housemate she's had has worked out well. Massad said she's happy with her current housemate, despite her early concern that the woman's bird might make too much noise.

"Her bird screams every once in a while," Massad joked, "but she has to hear me screaming at my son."

Fanucchi encouraged potential clients to contact the organization at (650) 348-6660 or visit

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