PORTLAND – Cumberland County is considering whether to start a homeshare program that would match people who have extra space in their homes with others who need affordable housing.

Elizabeth Trice, grants and special projects coordinator for the county, believes this sort of matchmaking service could be useful to both elderly residents who live alone and young or single adults who need inexpensive housing.

The program would focus on elderly householders, but not be limited to them.

It’s not yet clear whether the county will pursue such a program. How it would operate still needs to be worked out.

The county, along with co-sponsors South Portland and Westbrook, applied for $10,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to help answer those questions.

Much of the money would be used to hire a consultant to research the project and come up with a proposal.

The consultant would work with a study committee comprising representatives from local communities and social service agencies.

The program could borrow some ideas from HomeShare Vermont, a 25-year-old nonprofit organization that made 254 homesharing matches in its last fiscal year.

In that program, tenants typically do chores for a certain number of hours, pay rent or do a combination of the two as payment to their host. Applicant screening and follow-up support are also part of the organization’s services.

Trice hopes a homeshare program in Cumberland County could operate through existing organizations rather than require the creation of a new nonprofit group.

Trice noted that a large percentage of Cumberland County households — nearly 30 percent — are made up of just one person. In half of those, the person is at least 65 years old.

Three-quarters of those are women.

The number of aging women living alone is of concern to Susan DeWitt Wilder, foundation relations manager with the Southern Maine Agency on Aging.

She worries about their social isolation and their ability to make ends meet and thinks that homesharing could help those willing to share some common space and expenses.

“Having someone to share a house with — someone who’s compatible — is a wonderful opportunity for older women living alone,” said Wilder, who would serve on the program’s study committee.

Biddeford was looking into creating a homeshare program until the recession and problems such as foreclosures hit the city, said Community Development Coordinator Linda Hardacker, who would also be on the study committee.

“I’m interested to see what kind of program might be put together and how it might work,” she said.

If the county’s application wins funding, the work could begin in September, with the aim of completing a plan by spring 2012, Trice said.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]