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Platform Promises Access to Untapped Supply of Affordable Housing

Brent Warren Brent Warren Platform Promises Access to Untapped Supply of Affordable HousingPhoto provided by Nesterly
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The issue of affordable housing in Central Ohio received a lot of attention in 2019 – a $100 million Housing Fund was established in June, and a bond package was approved by Columbus voters in May that allocated $50 million toward the cause.

But what if there were a way to increase the supply of affordable housing in Columbus without building a single new house? 

That’s the claim of a Boston-based startup called Nesterly, which aims to connect young renters to the many bedrooms currently sitting unoccupied in the homes of empty nesters.

Launched in 2017, the site promises seniors an “easy, safe way to rent a room,” including help with screening candidates, an automated payment system and an option to include a “task exchange” as part of the home-sharing agreement (guests can offer to help around the house in exchange for lower rent).

The company says it has 539 hosts in the Boston area, most of whom rent out bedrooms for less than $700 a month, utilities included. A typical “task exchange” rent reduction works out to about $150 month for two-to-three hours of work a week (examples of tasks include things like taking out the trash or shoveling snow).

In Columbus, which became the second market for Nesterly in September, the company says that rents are clocking in at around $500 a month. The service here is offered through a partnership with the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging (COAAA) and Age-Friendly Columbus.

A screenshot of the Nesterly site shows available rooms in Columbus.

“Given the lack of affordable housing in our community and an increasing cohort of older adults with spare bedrooms who are looking for deeper social connections and additional income, Nesterly Central Ohio is an innovative tool with tons of potential for positive social impact,” said Frances Krumholtz, COAAA’s Volunteer and Engagement Coordinator.

Although the number of people who have signed up so far in Columbus remains small, Krumholtz said that there have already been some success stories.

“We have had both hosts and guests who are eager to engage with this platform, and we’re excited for it to continue to grow,” she said.

One of those early adapters is a COAAA employee, Clara Flack, who first listed a spare room in her southwest Columbus home on the site in October and has since had two different guests stay with her and her husband – one woman stayed for a month (the minimum stay allowed) and another for two.

Both guests were “quiet and respectful,” and “worked wonderfully into our home,” she said.

With all six children grown and out of the house, Flack said that her and her husband jumped at the chance to earn some extra income from the extra space in their home.

“Nesterly appealed to me because the site does monthly stays instead of nightly,” she said, when asked if she had also considered using Airbnb or another platform to find renters. “Less cleaning…and time to get to know people.” 

The room remains listed, and Flack is looking forward to hosting another guest in the future. So far, she added, “it has been a good experience for all of us.”

Nesterly doesn’t require that hosts be above a certain age to participate, but it bills itself as “intergenerational home-sharing,” and is set up with the needs of older homeowners in mind. The company was founded by Noelle Marcus, a graduate of MIT’s Masters in Urban Planning program, who was looking for a way to unlock the housing potential of America’s 54 million empty bedrooms, most of which are located in the homes of older adults.

For the Columbus-based partners in the project, the intergenerational aspect is a big part of its appeal. The potential is there, according to Krumholtz, for these stays to offer more than just a place to stay or an extra source of income; “an older host welcoming a younger guest into their home [can lead to] a mutually-enriching exchange of wisdom and friendship.”

For more information, see www.nesterly.io.

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