Age Friendly Saco Executive Director Jean Saunders (far right), stands with volunteers and city officials at the ribbon cutting of the group’s latest transportation program, which launched in fall 2023. Eloise Goldsmith photo

SACO – One could say that Maine’s new housing pilot program all started with Age Friendly Saco.

The program – which aims to support two groups acutely impacted by the housing crisis, older homeowners with younger renters – is expected to be fully up and running this summer.

Here’s how it works: homeowners who have empty rooms can list them online through the housing platform Nesterly, and renters navigating an expensive housing market can apply for them. Renters can also help with tasks around the house to get a discount on rent – terms that are agreed to mutually by the homeowner and renter.

The project is a joint partnership between MaineHousing, the state’s housing authority, and Nesterly, which began as a student-senior matching program in the Boston area. Proponents are optimistic that the program can help combat Maine’s housing crisis – and loneliness.

In her capacity as executive director of Age Friendly Saco, a group that supports local seniors, Jean Saunders knows that high housing costs are a challenge to remaining in one’s community as an individual ages.

That reality motivated her to attend a conference focused on Vermont’s homeshare matching program in 2018, where she learned about the decades-old program that is similar to what Nesterly offers.


Saunders, other members of Age Friendly Saco, and Tom Meuser, a Portland-based gerontologist, explored launching a similar program in Maine – but they ultimately decided it was too complicated for a volunteer organization like Age Friendly Saco to undertake.

“The Vermont program basically (has) a standalone non for profit that manages all (of the logistics),” said Saunders. “But we, as a volunteer organization, it was very hard for us to assume the liability.”

Undeterred, Age Friendly Saco remained focused on establishing some sort of statewide homeshare program. They brought up the idea with House Rep. Maggie O’Neil (D-Saco), who sits on the board of Age Friendly Saco.

State House Rep. Maggie O’Neil (D-Saco).

With the group’s encouragement, O’Neil drafted legislation calling for MaineHousing to create a home share program to support older Mainers, especially those who are have high costs and living on fixed incomes. The legislation called for the housing authority to solicit applications from vendors who have the ability to support a statewide digital “matching” program, and are also able to do background checks, collect rental payments, and otherwise administer the program. The bill was signed into law in July 2023.

Nesterly was selected and the vendor has signed a roughly $200,000 contract with MaineHousing.

MaineHousing must submit a report to the Legislature on the program’s effectiveness at the end of the pilot, which is scheduled to last 12 months, according to Erik Jorgensen, senior director of governmental relations and communications at MaineHousing.


Those involved in the pilot program hope it can help ease Maine’s ongoing housing crisis, which is largely driven by the state’s low housing stock. Maine needs to build up to 84,000 new units in order to meet future demand and counteract historic underproduction, according to a report from multiple state agencies released last year.

O’Neil told the Biddeford Courier that the program is particularly exciting because it can combat the crisis using resources that already exist.

There are around 500,000 empty bedrooms across Maine, according to O’Neil. “So if we, through this program, are able to open up 3,000 bedrooms across the state that wouldn’t otherwise be available, that will be a huge thing that we can do to address the housing crisis right now,” she said.

MaineHousing’s Jorgensen is also optimistic about the program’s potential impact. “There are more than 120,000 cost burdened senior households in Maine. And if we could even get 1% of that population (to sign up for Nesterly) … that could generate a huge amount of new affordable housing for the state. And it would also provide a lot of supplemental income for older adults who want to stay in their home.”

Nesterly – which operates in multiple locations – including the greater Boston area and the central Ohio area, has matched over 1,000 housemates in Boston, according to a representative for the organization.

A review from the city of Boston itself indicates the program, which began in 2017, has been a success.


“It showed that homesharing is a valuable and viable option for increasing affordability and social connectedness. The matches were able to help offset some of the high rental costs. They also supported each other, both emotionally and physically, through everyday interactions,” according to the authors of a 2020 report who reviewed the initial pilot program, which found that average homeshare rent was $700.

Connectedness was also something that O’Neil highlighted. She’s confident the program “can also help with companionship. I think a lot of us grew to understand that during COVID, when we were more isolated from people, (it) can have (a negative impact on) our health,” she said.

Another advantage of Nesterly, according to Jorgensen, is that it includes a lot of safeguards.

“You want to make sure you’re not exposing vulnerable people to potential for scams,” he said. “And the good news is that Nesterly has a lot of workers on staff, (they do) background checks, they handle all the rental arrangements, collecting the rent, that kind of thing.”

“So it’s a nice tool for somebody who wants to be a landlord but doesn’t want to have all the mechanics of being a landlord,” Jorgensen said.

With the pilot program soon to be fully operational, Jean Saunders is not sitting on the sidelines. She’s tackling something else that’s crucial to the program’s success: letting older Mainers, a community that tends to be less digitally savvy, know that the Nesterly program exists, and helping interested homeowners navigate the process of signing up.

“We’re trying to make people aware that this opportunity exists, (and) that it’s a really mutually beneficial relationship,” she said.


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