ANNAPOLIS -- By renting out rooms in her Montgomery County home, artist Laura Huff says, she has found herself confronted with political views far different from her own, has enjoyed a videocassette recorder owned by one of her tenants and has learned there are flying squirrels in her attic.
But mostly, the 60-year-old North Potomac resident says, she has discovered that sharing her large Montgomery County house with people who initially came to her as complete strangers has not only been enjoyable, it has helped her afford a lifestyle she might otherwise have been forced to give up.
"There is the big No. 1 fact: You do it for the money," she said. "But also, when your house is fairly large, it seems sort of a waste rattling around. Why not use it?"
State touts program
With housing costs going up and the economy going down, state officials are trying to encourage home-sharing -- institutionalizing and promoting living arrangements that can prove beneficial for homeowner and renter alike.
State housing officials say they are especially worried that older Marylanders can no longer afford to live alone on fixed incomes. Through the state Office on Aging, state and county housing offices, participating real estate agents and private roommate referral services, government officials say they are trying to find homeowners who are willing to share their homes.
On Dec. 1, the state began offering a toll-free hot line, (800)
SHARE-01, to facilitate making home-sharing matches.
Callers are offered packets of information about how to find a renter or rooms available for rent, about the availability of low-interest loans to pay for any remodeling necessary to permit home-sharing, or names of builders who are offering discounts to do such work.
Late last month, Gov. William Donald Schaefer visited the site of a novel new complex in St. Charles, a Charles County planned community, that will offer low-income elderly people an opportunity to share the cost of housing.
Every unit at Brookside Gardens will have a bedroom, a sitting room and a private bathroom for each of the unit's four residents, but with a shared kitchen, dining and living room to reduce overall housing costs and encourage the tenants to socialize. The state is financing $1.4 million of the project's $1.9 million cost.
A typical one-bedroom apartment rents for $650 a month; each of Brookside's 56 units might rent for as little as $300 to $325, said Jim Wilson, president of Interstate General Co., the developer of Brookside Gardens. Construction could begin by next summer, and units might be available for occupancy in the summer of 1993.
"This concept is about as new as when the Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock in 1620 or the settlers to Jamestown in 1607," he joked at the groundbreaking ceremony.
What is new is the government emphasis on matchmaking.
In addition to Brookside Gardens, the state has identified 10 state-owned properties it is willing to lease to non-profit organizations interested in fixing them up as shared housing rentals.
The state also has set aside $300,000 in low-interest loan money that will be made available to individual homeowners who need to remodel their homes to make them suitable for renters, or to organizations interested in rehabilitating any of the state properties.
Shoreman comes to city
Aurora V. Bransford, an 81-year-old Baltimore resident, found a suitable renter in 38-year-old Eastern Shoreman David O'Dell through the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore.
Mrs. Bransford, a retired chemist who moved from rural Harford County to Baltimore 13 years ago to share a house with a grandchild, allows Mr. O'Dell, a carpenter who has enrolled in computer courses, to shave off some of his rent by doing work around her seven-bedroom house near Morgan State University.
"I needed a place in Baltimore for a year, minimum," Mr. O'Dell said. "I wanted a place close to the [Montebello Rehabilitation] Center, where I would be doing this training. I also wanted a place where I could plant something in the yard, have access to the kitchen and bathroom, but be able to pay some of the rent by doing some sort of service, especially fixing the place up."
Mrs. Bransford, who is black, said she was uncertain at first that living with Mr. O'Dell, who is white, would work, but she said they are getting along just fine.
She said she first heard about St. Ambrose at a senior center and decided that using St. Ambrose's roommate screening services "would be better than picking up some stranger off the street."
Ruth Ann Jacobs, an 84-year-old widow from Annapolis, found her current roommate, a Jordanian man in his 70s, through a private room-mate-referral company. Her experiences with roommates have varied.
Her first roommate turned out to be an alcoholic. "She about wrecked the room," Mrs. Jacobs recalled.
Another was "an East Indian woman here as a missionary. I did that sight unseen, to my regret."