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The lack of affordable housing in the region isn’t going to ease up anytime soon, but for some, there is a viable option: home sharing.

The Shared Housing and Resource Exchange, known as SHARE Sonoma County, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to provide affordable housing to those in need by matching homeowners (providers) with tenants (seekers), according to Amy Appleton, executive director.

The way it works is SHARE screens and matches people — primarily seniors over age 60 — who exchange either services or cash, or a combination of both, for a room. Living arrangements are made between two or more unrelated people, with each having their own bedroom and possibly their own bathroom, while sharing common living areas.

Typically, the providers are “house rich and cash poor,” Appleton notes, and can’t continue living independently. Seekers are experiencing financial and other hardships that may include homelessness. Both need support and companionship.

“One-third of our people are designated homeless,” Appleton said. “They’re not chronic; they’re people who were on the fringe.”

Appleton said 80% of SHARE’s seekers are women, 20% men. Providers are 90% female and 10% male. The oldest provider is 99.

Appleton, who has been involved in home-sharing programs for a decade, launched SHARE in 2014, funding it on her own for eight months until she saw it becoming unsustainable. She was able to bring the program under the umbrella of Petaluma People Services Center with the understanding she would develop SHARE as a nonprofit, which she ultimately did. Petaluma People Services is a community-based program with services that include counseling, job placement, hot meals and transportation.

As the program grew, more funding was needed which she received from Gerry La Londe-Berg, a social services worker with Sonoma County who also is Appleton’s life partner.

La Londe-Berg, who has worked in social services for 36 years, noted it’s a career he loves but not a lucrative one.

In October 2017, La Londe-Berg’s Santa Rosa home burned in the Tubbs fire. He was living in Petaluma at the time he lost his home, which he’d leased eight months before the fires. His tenants got out safely. La Londe-Berg ended up deciding not to rebuild.

“I was way luckier than others, and the fact that I got this windfall meant that I could use it so, I’m just using it,” he said, noting his full insurance payout was $611,000. “But the irony is I’m (involved with) a home-sharing program, so I could get down to zero and somebody would still get me a house. It’s not unique to me; every one of us will do what we can to help other people.”

La Londe-Berg, who serves as the organization’s board secretary and treasurer, initially donated $90,000 to SHARE. He has since kicked in another $20,000.

SHARE’s funding predominantly comes from HUD (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and the Community Foundation Sonoma County, Appleton said.

To date, the organization has made nearly 450 shares, Appleton said. While she can’t currently focus on broadening her services, she would one day like to pursue intergenerational home sharing. But for now, she is growing another segment of SHARE, and that’s community housing.

“If you think about it, in the next 50 years the population of Sonoma County is going to go up 36% and the number of people over 65 will go up 123%,” noted La Londe-Berg, citing what he said are state Department of Finance figures. “I think this whole issue of housing and how we’re going to take care of people is the next big thing we have to deal with over time.”

Appleton credits La Londe-Berg with saving her organization.

“Literally the reason SHARE is still in business is because he was able to carry us through my growing the business,” she said. “Now we are doing so well and the funding is better. We’re always going to need more, but we would have not been able to sustain.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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